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Farm Group Pushes For New NAFTA Deal

Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Farmers For Free Trade dines on land belonging to the Erickson-Jones family

The bipartisan advocacy group Farmers For Free Trade has spent the past two weeks driving across the midwest rallying farmers behind the new trade plan between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. They’re pushing for Congress to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, replacement.

On Friday, almost 20 people shared a meal of meat, rolls, beans, and pasta at the 11th and final stop of Broadview, just north of Billings. They were on the property of Michelle Erickson-Jones, farmer and past president of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

She’s one of the farmers pushing for Congress to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which has yet to be submitted for a vote.

Erickson-Jones said she and her family grow a number of crops, including wheat, sunflower, and malted barley, of which Mexico is a major consumer as beer manufacturers.

“That is certainly an important customer and a key customer that we would like to keep,” said Erickson-Jones, and stressed that farmers in United States need a trade agreement to do business with their closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada.  “There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with NAFTA, but certainly upgrading it is very important and finalizing a deal that we’ve negotiated for two years is really important.”

She wants to see a trade agreement in place, and she wants to see Congress vote yes on it.

Former Montana Democratic senator Max Baucus is co-chair of Farmers For Free Trade and said Montana exports hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural products to Mexico and Canada every year.

He said USMCA promotes American dairy producers and updates common regulations for digital trade between countries.

“The upgrade’s got to get passed, because if it doesn’t get passed, then we’re in a real world of hurt,” said Baucus.

He said Farmers For Free Trade hopes the producers they spoke to along the way will contact their representatives and ask them to vote in favor of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

It’s unclear when the USMCA will come up for a vote.

Some Democrats are looking for better labor and environmental protections, and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi determines whether a Democratic-led Congress votes on  USMCA. Earlier this month, Pelosi told Politico Magazine she would not consider introducing USMCA until Mexico passes labor law reforms.

Republican Congressmen Greg Gianforte and Steve Daines both wrote statements calling the USMCA critical legislation to Montana agriculture producers. A representative for Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said he’s waiting to see more details of the agreement before making a call.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.