R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: USMCA a nearly done deal?

By Tim Alexander For Chronicle Media

Richard Guebert Jr., president of the Illinois Farm Bureau speaks at the Illinois Farm Bureau Annual Meeting held earlier this month in Chicago. (IFB staff photo)

This week’s farm and rural news report focuses on good news for farmers — advancement of the USMCA trade pact. Now it is up to the House and Senate to finalize the deal and move it to the President’s desk — could it be in time for Christmas? We also have some highlights from the Illinois Farm Bureau’s annual policy meeting, held earlier this month in Chicago. For this and more, please read on …


USMCA a nearly done deal?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The collective sigh of relief you heard echo across rural America last week was the result of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reaching an agreement on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact, which had been held up in the House for several months. Perhaps not coincidentally, the announcement was made Dec. 10, the same day the House Judiciary Committee signed off on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. However, that didn’t stop those in agriculture — and the president along with his top officials — from celebrating the advancement of USMCA, also known as NAFTA 2.0.

“USMCA is a big win for American workers and the economy, especially for our farmers and ranchers,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, in a USDA news release. “The agreement improves virtually every component of the old NAFTA, and the agriculture industry stands to gain significantly.”

According to USDA, USMCA will advance U.S. ag interests in two of the most important markets for American farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses. The revised trade pact will build on existing markets to expand U.S. food and agricultural exports and support rural jobs and the food processing industry, with all food and ag products under zero tariffs during NAFTA remaining tariff-free. In addition, USMCA will create new market access opportunities for U.S. exports to Canada of dairy, poultry and eggs.

In September, all former U.S. secretaries of agriculture since President Reagan, including John Block of Illinois, announced support for USMCA.


Illinois ag: Move USMCA to finish line

SPRINGFIELD — Along with former and current U.S. secretaries of agriculture, hundreds of U.S. farm, ranch and food organizations, along with thousands of individual producers, joined the push for Congress to come to an agreement on USMCA. Now, Illinois ag groups are doubling down on their membership and all producers to rally Congress to move USMCA over the finish line.

The Illinois Pork Producers Association issued a “USMCA Call to Action” in an email to members from Pam Janssen, IPPA president. In the email, Janssen, a Minonk pig farmer, encourages all Illinois pork producers to contact their member of Congress “and tell them to support USMCA this year.” According to IPPA, 2018 U.S. pork exports totaled $6.4 billion with 40 percent of pork exports going to Canada and Mexico, which supported over 16,000 U.S. jobs.

On Dec. 11, barely 24 hours after the USMCA agreement was announced by Lighthizer and Pelosi, the National Corn Growers Association held a live media event in St. Louis, calling on the President and Congress to move USMCA quickly to passage. The Illinois Corn Growers Association will be sending their president, Bill Leigh, to Washington, D.C. this week to join farmer leaders in their push for a vote on USMCA before the end of 2019.

While there, Leigh intends to also push for the EPA to revise the renewable volume obligation for 2020 to account for total waived gallons of ethanol, as President Trump promised farmers on Oct. 4, 2019.


Farm Bureau sets Illinois policies

CHICAGO — Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. was among the farmer leaders to issue a statement in support of the recent USMCA announcement. In fact, just days before Pelosi and Lighthizer’s announcement, Guebert, speaking at the IFB 105th Annual Meeting in Chicago, had said passage of USMCA was one of the top three priorities for the IFB in 2020. IFB delegates, in turn, urged the Trump administration to “work constructively with our trading partners to quickly resolve any remaining differences and ratify this economically and psychologically important trade agreement as soon as possible.”

Also from the annual three-day meeting, courtesy of the IFB staff: During the IFB delegation’s policy meeting, IFB unanimously urged the EPA to publish a final refinery waiver rule that “fairly and permanently addresses the issue of small refinery exemptions proliferation while preserving both the intent and the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

On a disappointing note, results from the ninth annual IFB Annual Meeting Survey showed Illinois farmers have less optimism for 2020 and believe there is a profound need to regain lost export demand and build new global markets in the future. In addition, IFB voting delegates re-elected Guebert, a Randolph County farmer, as their president, and Brian Duncan of Ogle County as vice president.


Bill would improve Mississippi flood control

QUINCY — A bill sponsored by Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer and supported by Illinois Rep. Darin Lahood , among others, would help provide much-needed improvements in flood control plans for the upper Mississippi River, which defines Illinois’ western border. HR5288 — the Mississippi River Flood Control Act — amends the Water Resources Development Act of 1999 to direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to modernize the flood plan for the region and submit the plan to Congress by 2021. The bill guarantees that all stakeholders have a voice with the Army Corps when developing the plan, and that agricultural districts are represented and compensated fairly following a flood.

Tim Maiers, executive director of the Upper Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri Rivers Association told me last week he expects the bill to be part of the larger WRDA 2020 conversation expected to take place in Congress next spring.


Illinois Farm Fact:

Canada and Mexico are the U.S.’ first and second largest export markets for food and agricultural products, totaling more than $39.7 billion in 2018 and supporting 325,000 U.S. jobs. (USDA)