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Dairy is one big winner in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday, Jan. 16. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)


WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday, Jan. 16, overwhelmingly approved the Trump administration's revision of the North American trade pact with Canada and Mexico, sending the deal to the White House where the president indicated he will sign the implementing bill in a grand ceremony next week.

The Senate passed the implementing bill, 89-10, a virtually identical margin to the House's earlier 385-41 vote. The Senate no votes included Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

The other senators running for president — Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Michael Bennet of Colorado — all voted for the agreement.

Sanders and Schumer both complained that the agreement didn't contain provisions to address climate change.

Still, the support for USMCA, which would open up new Canadian market share for U.S. dairy and poultry, was historically broad and bipartisan for trade issues, and was especially notable given the criticism that the original North American Free Trade Agreement has received. The relief from the U.S. ag sector is palpable after years of threats from President Donald Trump to pull out of NAFTA.

"The ratification of USMCA is a crucial win for all U.S. beef producers and a reassurance that U.S. beef will continue to have unrestricted, duty-free access to Canada and Mexico, National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Jennifer Houston said,

Dairy was one of the biggest winners under USMCA. Canada agreed to increase U.S. access to its market through new tariff rate quotas for milk, cheese, cream, skim milk powder, butter, ice cream, whey and other dairy products. Canada also pledged to eliminate its Class 7 dairy pricing system, which U.S. producers say flooded the international market with skim milk powder. That will translate into an additional $227 million in dairy exports for U.S. producers, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

"USMCA makes important strides to break down trade barriers, opening the door to new opportunities and supporting the flow of high-quality American dairy products to two valuable export markets," said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

"I am thrilled to death to be moving this off the floor of the Senate and getting it to the president for his signature," Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told Agri-Pulse. "Mexico and Canada are the top two ag trade partners for Iowa."

Only one Republican — Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — voted against USMCA, a top priority for the Trump administration. Toomey was particularly upset that senators were largely cut out of the negotiations last year between the White House and House Democrats that resulted in some changes to how labor and environmental standards would be enforced.

While NAFTA is still reviled by many lawmakers as a cause for mass factory relocations to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor costs, it also lowered agricultural trade tariffs between the three countries to virtually zero, prompting massive increases in trade of everything from pork to avocados.

Canada and Mexico are the top two export markets for U.S. agriculture, according to the USDA. The U.S. sold $40 billion worth of commodities to the two countries in 2018, making up roughly 30% of all U.S. farm and food exports.

Some senators were won over by the changes that House Democrats negotiated with the White House. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said they would not have supported the pact unless the White House had bowed to demands to bolster labor reforms in Mexico and enforcement measures that are designed to ensure that the country follows through on promises to allow for strong unions and rising wages.

But those changes weren't enough for some environmental groups, and their opposition was reflected in the votes by Sanders and Schumer.

"Instead of advancing global climate security by outlining binding and enforceable climate commitments from all three countries, the Trump administration provides significant incentives for manufacturers to move their business and their jobs from the U.S. to Mexico, where clean air and clean water regulations are much weaker," Schumer said.

Thursday's final vote on USMCA was the final Senate action before the start of Trump's impeachment trial, which was launched swearing in of senators Thursday.

"Agriculture is at a critical crossroads with the downturn in commodity prices, losses from natural disasters and the trade war," American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said ahead of the House vote last month. "This is an opportunity for Congress not only to help U.S. farmers and ranchers turn the corner on trade, but also show that Washington can still get things done on a bipartisan basis."