Johnson to Congress: Time to pass the USMCA

Sarah Mearhoff
Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota's Republican U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson says it's time for Congress to pass a trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

On Sept. 18, Johnson took to the House floor in Washington, D.C. to declare that the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, negotiated by the Trump administration, is "clearly a better agreement" than its predecessor NAFTA, and that Congress "needs to do its job for the good of this country" in passing it.

Johnson's call to action comes after Congress' extended August recess, and renewed talks of passing the trade deal. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca., told CNBC on Sept. 17 that Congress is "on a path to yes" but Democrats have lingering concerns over labor and environmental standards enforcement under the agreement, as well as a potential hike in drug prices for Americans.

Johnson said on the floor on Sept. 18 that Congress has had months to "ask questions" since President Donald Trump, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed the deal in November 2018. Amid a devastating year for agriculture — South Dakota's No. 1 industry — Johnson said farmers "need" the USMCA.

In a phone conference with media following his speech, Johnson said he did not have data on how the USMCA would impact South Dakota farmers specifically. But he did say that it would increase agriculture exports nationwide by an estimated $2.2 billion per year, and that South Dakota farmers would benefit from more open dairy and wheat market access in Canada.

On the floor, Johnson said that 1,000 agriculture groups have endorsed the agreement: “They know with fair access to markets, American producers can compete, and they can win."

While Congress irons out the details of the agreement, South Dakota farmers have been crushed by a trade war and poor ag economy as well as a string of natural disasters that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has called "a slow-rolling natural disaster of epic proportions."

In a Sept. 17 speech delivered via Facebook Live, Noem said she is likely to seek another presidential disaster declaration after the most recent floods in the eastern part of the state. South Dakota has already requested a total of $57 million in federal disaster relief this year, $46 million of which was approved by Trump in June.

Calling September's flood damage "breathtaking in its scope," Johnson said on the Sept. 18 call that he "trusts the governor's leadership on this topic" and that "she is right in wanting to request an additional disaster declaration."

"The South Dakota delegation, I am quite sure, is going to back the governor's play," Johnson said. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure that FEMA programs that are appropriate and reasonable are deployed in the right way to South Dakota families and businesses that need it."

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., speaks during a trade and tariff forum on Aug. 21, 2019, at Dakotafest in Mitchell.