In Minnesota, business leaders and officials echo Trump's push for USMCA

Dana Ferguson
Forum News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made a push for their new North American trade deal, urging Minnesotans to ask their representatives to approve the agreement.

Trump has aggressively attempted to convince Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is set to replace the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But the deal has met opposition from Democrats who control the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with other Democrats, has raised concerns about labor standards contained in the USMCA, as well as provisions dealing with prescription drug prices and environmental protections. And they’ve continued work on the proposal behind closed doors.

But with the launch of impeachment proceedings into the president and the 2020 election on the horizon, Trump and local officials have called on Congress to greenlight the deal before it falls by the wayside.

“As we get closer to November 2020 these things get more and more complicated,” Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon told Forum News Service. “Waiting is not in the interest of the American economy.”

The president and vice president echoed that sentiment on Thursday, Oct. 10, calling the agreement the “the largest trade deal in American history” and urging Minnesotans to reach out to their elected officials to support it. Trump campaigned on a promise to rip up the NAFTA and to reach a better deal. Mexico has ratified the agreement, which must also be approved by the U.S. and Canada.

“We’re replacing the disaster known as NAFTA with the brand-new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, USMCA, a giant victory for our farmers, ranchers, workers in Minnesota,” Trump told more than 16,000 rally attendees in Minneapolis. “Congress should pass USMCA immediately. We hope that Nancy Pelosi can start thinking about passing some legislation instead of thinking about nonsense.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Oct. 11 told reporters that he’d written to Pelosi urging her to ratify the deal.

And national labor leaders last week said rushing the agreement would be a “colossal mistake.” In an interview with the Washington Post, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the deal would fail if leaders attempted to pass it before tweaking provisions aimed at protecting workers. Pelosi has said House Democrats are on a “path to yes” on the agreement.

In Minnesota, Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat representing Minnesota’s 7th District, has stood with Republicans in supporting the prompt ratification of the USMCA. And he was among a handful of House Democrats to oppose the initiation of impeachment proceedings out of a concern that the move could derail the trade deal.

“If anyone thinks a partisan impeachment process would constrain President Trump, they are fooling themselves. Without significant bipartisan support, impeachment proceedings will be a lengthy and divisive action with no resolution,” Peterson said in a statement at the time. “I believe it will be a failed process that will end up even further dividing our country and weakening our ability to act together on issues like passing USMCA, containing foreign threats and growing our economy.”

Other Minnesota Democrats have said the agreement needs work before they’d support ratification.

Kevin Paap, president of Minnesota Farm Bureau, said his group has urged lawmakers to ratify the USMCA to again set terms for trade with the U.S. neighbors and potentially set the stage for other trade deals.

“I think we have to admit that other countries are looking at us and if the administration can’t get USMCA done with our two closest neighbors and best allies, how eager would you be to negotiate with us?” Paap said ahead of a trip to Washington last month. “Let’s get this done and move on to the next step.”

And two weeks ago Democratic Gov. Tim Walz told a room full of Minnesota manufacturers that Congress should be able to prioritize the agreement, even as it pursues other measures.

“Our message to Congress would be: Walk and chew gum at the same time, do what you need to do on current events but get us a trade deal,” Walz said. “Get that thing done.”

State sees early hit amid trade disputes

In Minnesota, economic development officials reported a 4% dip in the state’s exports between April and June of this year compared to that timeframe a year prior.

With the ratification of a new trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada ongoing and a long-term tit-for-tat trade war with China still being waged, uncertainty drove down the demand for Minnesota goods. Canada imported 9% less between April and June as compared to that quarter in 2018, while China took in 3% fewer Minnesotan exports. And Mexico imported 1% fewer goods from Minnesota than it did a year before.

“We weathered it OK, we expect to see the effect to see the impact of some of these new policies coming later in the year,” Minnesota Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove told reporters last month. “We expect that later this year will be the true test of how these trade policies have affected our exports.”

Meat exports fell by 13% between April and June of this year as compared to that timeframe a year prior. And Minnesota producers and processors felt the pinch.

Passing the trade deal with China and lifting tariffs on agricultural products could bolster Minnesota’s markets, Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said. While Trump has called farmers “great patriots” for bearing much of the impact of the U.S. trade war with China, that wouldn’t resolve serious financial straits in which many farmers find themselves, he said.

“We can’t go into the bank and tell them we’re a great patriot but we can’t pay our loan back,” Wertish said. “The banker’s not going to say, ‘You’re a great patriot, you don’t have to pay your loan back.’”

White House officials entered into meetings with Chinese leaders on Oct. 11 to discuss a potential trade agreement.

“Our message to the president and the administration and to Congress is to do it as fast as possible because the impact of the tariffs on, just take soybeans, is so very detrimental to the rural economy of Minnesota and ultimately to the state,” Loon, of the Minnesota Chamber, said. “So if the end game is a good trade agreement, it’s best to move expeditiously.”

President Donald Trump rallies with nearly 20,000 supporters Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Minneapolis. Thousands of protesters marched outside the Target Center ahead of the event.