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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Commentary: Texas agriculture needed NAFTA; now it needs USMCA

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Agriculture is much more than a deep-rooted part of Texas culture. It is also the lifeblood of our economy. Over 240,000 farms and ranches cover our state, more than any other in the country. The economic impact of agriculture in Texas totals more than $100 billion annually and agricultural cash receipts average $20 billion. Texas also leads the nation in cattle, cotton, sheep, hay, goat and mohair production.

Texas agriculture has flourished under sound trade policies. Unfortunately, these successful policies are at risk, and that alarms Texas farmers and ranchers.

Congress has the power to help. Ratifying the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) would provide a much-needed boost to Texas agriculture and would benefit our rural communities that depend on exports to Canada and Mexico for economic success.

USMCA modernizes and improves the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) while preserving the same duty-free, unrestricted access to Canada and Mexico that U.S. agriculture – especially Texas agriculture – has benefited from over the past 25 years.

The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of agricultural food products, accounting for 35 percent of the nation’s farm income. Much of the success in expanding domestic agriculture exports can be directly attributed to NAFTA.

Since the agreement’s enactment in 1994, U.S. agricultural exports worldwide climbed from $46 billion to $139.6 billion in 2018 – a 202 percent increase. During that same period, U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada grew from $10 billion to $39.7 billion per year – a 297 percent increase.

NAFTA is one of the greatest success stories in the history of U.S. agriculture, with Mexico and Canada becoming two of our best international customers.

That’s even more evident in Texas, where economic activity related to agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada account for more than $3.7 billion and 22,972 jobs. USMCA seeks to build upon NAFTA’s success.

While USMCA was signed in November 2018, all three countries must ratify the agreement in their legislative bodies before it can take effect. Lawmakers to our north and south have moved in that direction. Mexico ratified the agreement after they made much-needed labor law reforms that were a condition of USMCA, and Canada is moving in that direction.

If delays in the U.S. continue, the chance to pass USMCA this year will be lost with legislative action becoming less likely the closer we get to the 2020 election.

Texas farmers and ranchers need the USMCA to be approved now.

We must protect the market access and scientific standards that NAFTA has provided to Texas agriculture over the past 25 years. Our state’s economic success depends on this. We do this by ratifying USMCA. We urge our U.S. representatives and senators to act quickly.

Levi Berry is chairman of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. Russell Boening is president of the Texas Farm Bureau. Bobby McKnight is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

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