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Senate to give Trump a trade victory days before impeachment trial

In a sudden legislative speed-up, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the Senate will pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement before the end of this week, a trade victory for President Trump days before an impeachment trial begins. The “new NAFTA” would bring modest increases in U.S. food and agriculture sales to its North American neighbors while maintaining duty-free access for most farm exports to the next-door markets.

“We are, it looks like, going to be able to process the USMCA here in the Senate this week,” McConnell said at the Capitol after a luncheon with Republican senators. “That will be good news for the Senate and for the country, and something I think we have broad bipartisan agreement on.”

Until now, the tri-national pact was expected to take a back seat to the Senate trial of Trump on two House articles of impeachment. Instead, Senate committees are scheduled to complete their review of the USMCA on Wednesday, which would open the way for a Senate vote. Seven committees shared jurisdiction over the legislation to implement the agreement. McConnell said the impeachment trial might begin next Tuesday, if the House transmits the documents this week. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to acquit Trump.

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Trump promised an overhaul of NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, when he ran for president in 2016. The House approved the trade deal, 385-41, in late December after months of negotiations with the administration over refinements of labor, environment, pharmaceutical, and enforcement provisions. Mexico ratified the USMCA last summer. Canada is expected to act soon after the United States completes the approval process.

Under the USMCA, Canada is obliged to eliminate its Class 7 milk-pricing system, which favors Canadian dairy farmers over imports of ultra-filtered milk from the United States for making products such as cheese and yogurt and to grade U.S. wheat fairly when it is imported rather than declaring it to be lower-value “feed” wheat.

Canada and Mexico account for one-third of U.S. trade in food and agriculture. The U.S. International Trade Commission says the trade pact “would lead to small increases in U.S. exports to Canada of dairy products, poultry meat, eggs, and egg-containing products, as well as wheat and alcoholic beverages. At the same time, it would lead to a small increase in U.S. imports of sugar and sugar-containing products and dairy products from Canada.” In a 2019 report, the agency estimated the USMCA would increase food and agriculture exports to Canada and Mexico by $2.2 billion, or 1%. “Most trade in agricultural products between the United States, Canada, and Mexico is already duty-free under NAFTA and would continue to be duty-free under USMCA.”

“Our farmers and ranchers expect us to move on this,” said Senator Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican. “I will be so thankful to move [the USMCA] out of the Senate and onto the president’s desk.”

Trump is scheduled to sign a “phase one” agreement with China on Wednesday to de-escalate, but not end, the China-U.S. trade war.

To watch a C-SPAN video of McConnell’s remarks, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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