Farmers seek Congressional approval of the USMCA
Food and crops produced by America’s farmers are affordable, nutritious and safe.
And international trade is as much a key ingredient in achieving those aims as technological and scientific advances because it helps boost commodity prices, which in turn help farmers in Oklahoma and other states thrive.
But lately, international trade opportunities haven't been abundant while President Donald Trump’s administration has worked to renegotiate various trade agreements between the U.S. and other nations.
That, farmers say, has made it more difficult for them to make ends meet as tariffs and other trade barriers have put them at a disadvantage in markets where they compete against producers from other countries that don’t face the same hurdles.
Recently, however, the administration finished negotiating a proposed deal with Mexico and Canada that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Now the administration is seeking support from Congress to ratify the new treaty, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and farmers are banding together to help.
On Thursday, an organization called Farmers for Free Trade came to Oklahoma City to let representatives of Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation and state and local elected leaders know farmers want the agreement approved as quickly as possible.
The agreement, backers said, sets new rules that would guarantee farmers in Oklahoma and other states renewed, unrestricted access to trading partners in Mexico and Canada.
Its approval means something to Oklahoman farmers, given they exported $154 million worth of agricultural goods to Mexico and Canada in 2018, alone.
Data provided by Farmers for Free Trade said the agricultural exports business supported 1,400 jobs in the state in 2018.
“This is a call to action,” said Angela Hoffman, executive co-director of Farmers for Free Trade.
Rodd Moesel, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s president, said farmers' motivation to feed the world has a moral, as much as economic, basis.
But when markets are restricted, supplies climb and prices for what farmers produce decline. Moesel said the U.S. still must settle trade disputes with China, Japan, Korea and other partners, noting approval of the USMCA is a necessary first step.
“Generally speaking, the value of agricultural commodities today are about half of what they were just five years ago,” he said. “And I can guarantee you, expenses aren’t down.
“Farmers across our state either are dipping deep into their savings or borrowing additional money to stay in business.”
Hope Pjesky, who raises cattle and wheat with her husband in Alfalfa and Garfield counties, said farmers who grow those commodities depend on trade with Canada and Mexico.
“The trade wars that we have been in during the past couple of years have been very impacting on our operation and our psyche,” Pjesky said. “It really is impacting people in Oklahoma.”
Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council, echoed Pjesky’s concerns, noting Mexico’s importance as a market to the state’s pork producers.
The U.S. exports more than 25% of the pork it raises annually to overseas markets, Lindsey said, and barriers to that activity impacts producers significantly.
Retaliatory tariffs Mexico had placed on U.S. imports before the USMCA negotiations ended were costing producers $12 a hog in value, he noted.
"Roughly 40% of all the pork we produce in this country is exported to Mexico and Canada,” Lindsey said. “We need all of our Congressional delegation to help. It is tremendously important to us.”