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USMCA Supporters in Farm Country and in House Rally for Passage

Although the Republican House members cheering for passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement outnumbered Democrats more than 3-to-1, both Republicans and Democrats who spoke at the Farmers for Free Trade Rally Sept. 12 said ratification is within reach. Former House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said, "I feel like we have moved to the 20-yard line." Rep. Henry Cuellar, a fellow Texan who is a Democrat, agreed. "We will get this done," he predicted. "We are very close."

With Democrats controlling the House -- and therefore the fate of the NAFTA rewrite -- Cuellar is in a better position to influence the outcome than is Brady, despite Brady's status as the top Republicans on Ways and Means. Cuellar said he was in a meeting Sept. 11 with Mexican officials and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that he talked to Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., that day, too.

Brady and about 10 other Republican House members attended the rally near the Capitol with about 200 agriculture-industry supporters. Cuellar, who represents Laredo, told the group that his city sees 16,000 tractor-trailers cross from or to Mexico every day. "We know who's going to vote yes," he said, like himself. And there are others in his party "who will vote no every single time" when it comes to liberalizing trade. But Cuellar, who told ag lobbyists that Congress advocates need their help, said he's hearing from other Democrats who say, "'Let me take a look at this. Let me see what agriculture has to say.' If you want to work with us, we have a list of who you need to talk to."

Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the new NAFTA isn't a game-changer for agriculture, even though Republicans have hyped the increased access into the Canadian market for dairy and the phytosanitary measures. "The bigger issue is getting something resolved on the China issue, and I think it's going to be hard to do if we don't get this out of the way," Peterson said. He said there is no room in grain elevators for the soybeans that will be harvested this year, because of the lost sales to China for last year's crop.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said there are still some shortcomings in the USMCA on labor and the environment, on pharmaceuticals and on enforcement. In an interview after the rally, he said Mexico has not appropriated enough in its proposed budget for labor reform or environmental cleanup. "We want to see them increase their funding for some of their enforcement areas that we think are inadequate," he said.

But Costa, a farmer, suggested he doesn't understand NAFTA opponents who will also oppose USMCA. "If you have problems with the existing agreement, it seems to me you have two choices," he said. Either support USMCA, "or you can live with the existing agreement you have all these issues with."

Brady said after the rally that Republicans are eager to find common ground with House Democrats. Republicans agree stronger enforcement is needed across the agreement. Pelosi said during a press conference later that morning that the pact has to "have more clarity and more standing on what the enforcement is within the agreement. I feel confident that it is possible to do so." She said the Democrats working group and the U.S. trade representative are continuing their "back and forth." She added, "We think we're making progress."