Op-Ed: Richmond Times-Dispatch: USMCA shows how trade deals should get done

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, OP-ED: REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER

Back in August on a hot, muggy day, I was standing beside a pair of grain bins in Nottoway County during my two-day farm tour. Flanked by a soybean grower on my left and farm reporters on my right, I was very clear: Congress needed to make progress on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The farmer agreed. At a moment marked by volatile global markets, reckless trade wars and low commodity prices, Congress and the president could secure a win for American agriculture by providing increased trade certainty between the United States and our closest trading partners.

The USMCA is a monumental trade agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada that would replace the severely outdated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). If enacted, it would strengthen duty-free market access for U.S. products. For our businesses, the trade deal would keep our economy strong and modernize trade activities — including through updated e-commerce guidelines and the elimination of burdensome red tape.

I’ve been eager to move this agreement forward — and that’s because I know that central Virginia’s economy depends on trade. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, Virginia exported $4.3 billion worth of goods to Canada and Mexico in 2018 alone.

But the USMCA is not a stereotypical case of self-serving politicians pushing the interests of “big business.” Virginia’s small- and medium-sized businesses account for 66% of the commonwealth’s exports of transportation equipment to Canada and Mexico, as well as 61% of our food exports to these countries. This agreement would actually provide tangible benefits to local, Virginia-based job-creators.

In October, I held a roundtable with members of the Chesterfield County Chamber of Commerce to discuss these benefits. Throughout our discussion, I repeatedly heard what I’ve heard from businesses leaders across central Virginia — they believed the USMCA would significantly strengthen export opportunities for their businesses and protect good-paying jobs for workers and their families in the face of competition from Mexico.

Throughout my first year in Congress, I’ve shared the views of central Virginians directly with administration officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. And at a White House meeting with Vice President Mike Pence earlier this month, I joined five of my colleagues from across the country to underscore the importance of the USMCA to our regions. We also discussed how there is clear bipartisan agreement on the USMCA — and that we shouldn’t be afraid to move it forward. Just a few days later, House negotiators and the administration finally announced a deal.

Over months of negotiations between House Democrats and the administration, changes were secured to make the agreement even stronger. These modifications included the most robust labor protections in any trade deal in American history.

On Dec. 19, I was proud to join 384 of my House colleagues in passing the USMCA. I’m enthusiastic about this landmark achievement, and I’m proud to be a part of the push to get it across the finish line.

The process behind getting 384 of my colleagues to “yes” on the USMCA demonstrates how government should ideally function. Yes, there was rampant disagreement at many stages. There was a constant push and pull between regional and partisan factions. But fundamentally, that’s how representative government should work — lawmakers commit to working in good faith, hammer out disagreements and reach a compromise on behalf of those they represent. I hope we can use this process as a foundation for future negotiations surrounding multilateral trade agreements.

A once-in-a-generation trade agreement is not something that should be partisan — and we should commit to doing it right. The strong showing of bipartisan support for this trade deal proves that even in our hyper-partisan time, we can still work together to advance the priorities of the American people.

Now, the next step is for the Senate to move the USMCA implementing legislation forward. But already, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has threatened to stall the bill, just as he has with more than 275 bipartisan bills passed in the House.

We can’t let the USMCA become another casualty of political games. Senator McConnell shouldn’t be afraid to work with House Democrats, and likewise, House Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to work with President Donald Trump on areas where we agree — especially if it means protecting the economic security of our businesses, manufacturers and farms.

I’m urging the Senate to step up and pass the USMCA because central Virginia’s economy has waited long enough.

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