What happened when the three female farmers from the United States, Mexico, and Canada walked into a trade negotiation?
It sounds like the start of a bad joke.
In our case, however, it’s serious business: For the sake of our farms, we need the political leaders in our countries to support the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, also known as USMCA.
This is the proposed successor to NAFTA, the trade pact that has governed the flow of goods and services across borders in North America for a generation. While all three of us were satisfied with this previous arrangement, we also see the upside of a new deal that’s modernized for the 21st century.
USMCA supports everything from cross-border infrastructure to innovations that the NAFTA negotiators could not have imagined a quarter-century ago, such as agricultural biotechnology and digital trade.
We believe USMCA will make us better farmers and we said so more than a year and a half ago, when we jointly authored a column before USMCA even had its name.
“On the surface,” we wrote, “the three of us may not appear to have much in common. Our homes are far apart, and nothing like each other. We live in the hills of Vermont, the plains of Saskatchewan, and the highlands of central Mexico.”
We grow different crops, produce different products, and speak different languages.
Yet we share a mutual interest in trade: “It makes sense for neighbors to trade with neighbors,” we wrote.
Americans and Canadians want fresh vegetables from Mexico. Canadians and Mexicans want corn and milk from the United States. Americans and Mexicans want seafood and wheat from Canada.
As farmers, we’re the people who can supply these needs.
Because we share borders, our costs of transportation are lower. We all want to trade with the whole world, but our proximity also means it makes economic sense to trade with each other before we gaze across oceans to China, Europe, and elsewhere.
Our farms would fail if we couldn’t sell what we produce to customers on our continent. We depend on each other for every aspect of our operations, from inputs to outputs.
Consumers also benefit when we can exchange goods and services without the artificial disruptions of tariffs and quotas. It keeps prices low, making it easier for families to feed, fuel and clothe themselves.
USMCA also will boost employment. A report last spring from the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated that the pact would create 176,000 jobs in the United States alone. That’s half the workforce for the state of Vermont.
So we’re asking the elected officials in our three countries to do the right thing and support USMCA.
The time is now. November 30 will mark the one-year anniversary of the signing ceremony that brought together our national leaders: President Donald Trump of the United States, President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada. They met at a G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
For USMCA to become a reality, however, our national legislatures must formally approve the document that these men signed.
Mexico already has done this. Its congress approved USMCA in June, building momentum for Canada and the United States to act.
Canada held national elections last month. Its members of Parliament can return to the task of full-time lawmaking. They should start by taking up USMCA.
The United States also must get on board. It has a narrow window of opportunity before the 2020 presidential race makes the passage of major legislation next to impossible.
Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, just called USMCA “the easiest trade deal that we’ve ever done.”
It also has the advantage of bringing Americans together at a time of bitter partisan conflict. The only way USMCA passes Congress is with a bipartisan majority.
The USMCA is very good and the refusal to approve it would represent a major political and economic failure.
If this trade deal isn’t ratified, we fear farmers will become the punchline of another bad joke.