Texas farmers, ranchers talk trade on Capitol Hill


By Gary Joiner

Proponents of international trade are making a push in Washington, D.C., and nearly 200 Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) members last week added their voices in calling on Congress to support the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA).

The Texas farmers and ranchers were in the nation’s Capitol as part of the TFB National Affairs Awards Trip March 25-28. Trade led the list of issues and policy positions promoted by attendees. Other national legislative priorities the group advocated for included the 2018 Farm Bill, farm labor, cattle fever ticks, transportation, taxes, regulatory reform and meat substitutes.

“We know we have a big job to do on USMCA, but I hear good things from both sides of the aisle,” TFB President Russell Boening said. “We know it’s going to be a heavy lift, but trade is important, and I think people understand that.”

Farm Bureau leaders met with members of the Texas congressional delegation or their staff, as well as heard from representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

Congressional approval of USMCA must be accomplished before August, if possible, in order to avoid 2020 election-year politics, according to elected officials.

“I think the most important thing is let’s get this out of the House. Obviously, we’ve got divided government. We don’t want this to be a victim of some of the political wrangling back and forth,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said. “This needs to be a win for everybody and not a zero-sum gain.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz also addressed trade with the Texas group.

“This is a debate, and it’s really right now at a fork in the road as far as to which direction it goes,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said. “The biggest thing for farmers and ranchers is to let those voices be heard. We win when we open up foreign markets, and we can export our goods, our crops, our services and our livestock.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said “jobs, jobs, jobs in the rural areas” are key words to earn favor by members of the Texas congressional delegation toward USMCA.

‘I’m supportive of the new trade agreement. I’m working trying to get Democrats to support it, and I feel at the end of the day, we are going to do it,” Cuellar said.

The consideration of a trade agreement will be a new experience for a significant number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Since we did the Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2012, we counted 248 new members of the House, out of 435, who have never taken a trade vote on anything,” Gregg Doud, chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the USTR, said. “So there’s a lot of shoe leather that needs to be burned up there this summer on Capitol Hill to help educate folks, particularly from urban America, about the importance of trade in agriculture.”

Doud said U.S. agriculture today exports $145 billion worth of products, and it could do a lot better than that, if it just had access.
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