Trade agreement ratification needed, Johnson says

Elisa Sand

While a trade agreement with Mexico and Canada was signed by President Donald Trump at the end of November, it has yet to be ratified by Congress.

That needs to change, said U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., speaking on Feb. 20 at the Aberdeen Ag Expo at the Best Western Ramkota Inn and Convention Center. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — also known as the USMCA — is the new North American Free Trade Agreement.

While he’s heard repeatedly from the Trump administration that ratification of the agreement is a top priority, Johnson said it isn’t something that’s been discussed by his colleagues or the Republican caucus.

“These trade deals never get done without White House pressure,” Johnson said. “In the last five days, I started to see more communication from the White House on this.”

But, Johnson said, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, isn’t a fan of trade agreements, and she controls the schedule for what’s discussed in Congress.

As such, Johnson said, lobbying efforts might be needed from groups like organized labor that will benefit from USMCA’s new labor rights provisions.

Later in his talk, Johnson noted the need for a trade agreement with China. While he doesn’t disagree that sanctions were needed, he also said markets in China are important, especially for the agriculture industry. He said discussions between China and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer this week will be telling.

“This was going to be a key week in the history of these negotiations,” Johnson said.

He said his concern is a repeat of what happened in 1973 when a trade dispute led Japan to invest billions of dollars in Brazil, instead of the U.S., to get soybeans.

“That investment created a massive market player in Brazil,” Johnson said.

He spoke before a light crowd of attendees who asked about a variety of topics, including new regulations relating to Waters of the U.S. and changes with the food stamps programs.

Waters of the U.S.

Prior guidelines proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns because they claimed that all water that could drain into a designated lake or stream could be subject to federal regulations, Johnson said.

He said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the regulations are administrative overreach. The latest Farm Bill also revises language, and the Trump administration is pushing for change, Johnson said.

“We’re in a position where it’s not nearly the threat that it was,” he said.

While he didn’t have many details on the new proposed rules, Johnson described them as something that are a “more tailored and realistic approach.”

The new rules have yet to be before the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture for a hearing, he said.

Food stamps

Johnson said his first five-minute speech to Congress will highlight changes he’d like to see to the food stamps program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

He said work requirements need to be enforced across the nation.

“One-third of the nation doesn’t have work requirements,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there’s a need for reform when the top purchase with food stamps is pop, which has no nutritional value. He referenced the Women, Infants and Children program, usually called WIC, which only allows specific purchases.

“Why can’t we do that for food stamps?” he asked.

Johnson said he isn’t opposed to drug testing, especially if it’s used not as a way to take away benefits, but as a way to get help for the parents who test positive.

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., speaks with Emmett Lenihan, Farm Bill biologist with Pheasants Forever, during the Aberdeen Ag Expo on Feb. 20. 
U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., talks about agriculture trade issues during the Aberdeen Ag Expo on Feb. 20