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Having grown up in a farm family in east Arkansas, I knew from the very start of my 16 years in Congress that when it comes to our nation's farmers, you need to check your party affiliation at the door. The people who feed families across the country and around the globe deserve better than partisan squabbling.

That's why when something comes along like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the trade agreement that the United States negotiated with Mexico and Canada to update and modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we can't allow politics as usual to win the day. Instead, we need political courage and decisive action. And now is the time for Congress to take action to pass USMCA in order to restore stability and certainty for our farmers.

In recent months, I have been working with the national nonprofit Farmers for Free Trade. We have held meetings with farmers all across the U.S., and one message has been loud and clear--America's farmers are hurting. They need a win and the economic certainty that an agreement like the USMCA represents.

NAFTA was a success for U.S. agriculture and many other industries in the United States. By lowering and eliminating tariffs (import taxes) on goods flowing between the three countries, NAFTA dramatically increased the level of economic activity between us and created one of the largest free-trade blocs in the world. Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, U.S. food and agriculture exports to Mexico and Canada have grown from $11 billion in 1993 to more than $40 billion today.

Think about that for a moment. Each year, United States dairies, pork and poultry producers, apple growers, corn farmers, rice growers, and food processors export $40 billion in products to Mexico and Canada. These countries have become two of our largest export destinations, accounting for more than 25 percent of all U.S. food and ag exports. For my home state of Arkansas, Mexico is our second-largest export market.

While NAFTA was a tremendous boost for U.S. food and agriculture and other industries, it was overdue for an update. When NAFTA was negotiated, the Internet was in its infancy and few people had cell phones. The phrase "e-commerce" had never been uttered. The new USMCA contains important provisions for e-commerce, intellectual property protections, and manufacturing. It also helps increase our dairy exports to Canada.

The USMCA is not radically different from the NAFTA that we worked hard to negotiate and that I ultimately supported as a newly elected congresswoman in 1993. But the USMCA does represent stability and certainty for the companies, jobs, and supply chains that have developed in the 25 years since NAFTA took effect in 1994. The International Trade Commission estimates that the USMCA will increase U.S. GDP by $68.2 billion and create 176,000 jobs.

These improvements were being held up due to legitimate congressional concerns over the administration's decision to place tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Mexico and Canada. In recent months, congressional leaders, such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley, made it clear to the administration that the USMCA could only become law if these tariffs were repealed.

I agreed with that sentiment. Tariffs are bad for the U.S. economy, they harm our relationships with our neighbors and allies, and are antithetical to everything we are trying to accomplish with free-trade agreements like NAFTA and the new USMCA.

Fortunately, the administration heard this message and recently agreed to repeal the steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada. This allowed Mexico and Canada to also back off from the retaliatory tariffs they had placed on U.S. agricultural exports.

Now that these tariffs have been lifted, it's time for Congress to do its job and pass the USMCA. By passing the USMCA, we can provide critical certainty for farmers and make it clear that the United States intends to maintain and strengthen economic ties in North America. Most of all, it means we can continue to supply the safest, most affordable food supply in the world to our neighbors to the north and south.

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Blanche Lincoln served as a U.S. senator from Arkansas from 1999 to 2011. Senator Lincoln was the first woman and first Arkansan to serve as chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Editorial on 06/13/2019

Print Headline: BLANCHE LINCOLN: Rise above fray

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