By: Brian Todd
PINE ISLAND — Hoping to learn how the United States-Mexico-Canada trade deal is impacting businesses in her district, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, MN-2, hosted a roundtable discussion Monday in Pine Island.
“I called us together so I can learn a little bit more from your perspective what you see as the most important parts of USMCA,” Craig said, opening the discussion with representatives from various agricultural, manufacturing and transportation businesses.
Sam Jennings, a winemaker at Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls, said the biggest benefit for his business has been opening up a new market. Canada, he said, under the North American Free Trade Agreement — the predecessor of USMCA — had strict regulations as well as taxes at the border, turning a $15 bottle of wine in Minnesota into a $35 bottle of wine north of the border.
“Today, 100 percent of our business is in the U.S.,” Jennings said. “The new agreement has leveled the field on that, opening the field on wine imports into Canada. It should be, hopefully, easier to get wine into Canada.”
Amber Glaeser, director of public policy for the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said USMCA has been a critical step forward for Minnesota farmers.
“We need to make sure the markets with our two closest neighbors are open,” Glaeser said. For poultry and dairy, that seems to be the case, she added. “For farmers and ranchers looking to export across the world, we need to look at other relationships across the world.”
The talk around the table highlighted the need for a new trade deal with the European Union, a next step with China, and a look at sometimes overlooked markets in Southeast Asia and South America.
Keith Allen, a member of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Board of Directors and a farmer from Kenyon, said that while on a trip to discuss farm imports in Vietnam during the Obama administration, he kept hearing one message from the folks in Southeast Asia.
“They like our consistency. They like our quality and our safety,” he said. “I think there’s still quite a bit of demand in Southeast Asia.”
Craig asked the group how they saw the protracted trade war with China that, she said, has finally de-escalated somewhat with the signing of the phase one agreement with China.
“I think the administration was absolutely right to take on China,” Craig said. “They were taking our intellectual property.”
Allen said the agriculture focus on phase one should benefit both the soybean and hog markets, where China could become a big buyer. Rather than sell soybeans as feed to the Chinese swine industry, which was decimated by the African swine fever, he’d rather keep soybeans at home feeding U.S. hogs that are then sold overseas. That, he said, is a better deal financially for U.S. farmers.
“The demand for pork is there,” he said. “There’s more opportunity long term.”
While she’s hopeful the China deal will open markets, Glaeser said the trade war with China didn’t come without negative consequences. Between the trade war and China dealing with the African swine fever, U.S. farmers missed some opportunities.
“China used to be our number one partner (in agricultural trade),” Glaeser said. “Now, China is our fifth-largest customer. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up. We need to see some progress with China.”
Craig said she worked hard with Democrats in the U.S. House to get the agreement passed, and she’s hoping to help Minnesota farmers and U.S. business as a whole with new trade deals that, she said, should be bipartisan efforts.
“I’m going to be a partner with the administration to make sure they give each of our industries an opportunity for new markets that are available to us,” Craig said.
Craig said strengthening trade deals with other countries in Asia will give the U.S. a stronger hand when dealing with China, and Monday’s discussion helped solidify Craig’s belief that better trade deals will help American workers across the board.
Another takeaway from Monday’s discussion, she said, was making sure that while the USMCA agreement has been passed and signed, there’s another step.
“The job’s not done now that the bill’s been signed,” Craig said. “We need to make sure we’re monitoring closely from a congressional office perspective the implementation of the regulations.”