It’s been a rough year in farm country. Severe weather. Flooding. A delayed (and in some cases non-existent) planting season. Sluggish agriculture economy. Barriers to market access. Ongoing trade disputes. There are plenty of things South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers could complain about – things for which most Americans would be sympathetic – but these folks don’t have a complaining bone in their body, because a complaint is time wasted, and it doesn’t do anything to help an operation succeed.
Farmers and ranchers are hardworking, glass-half-full optimists, and I’m proud of what they do, but I don’t want to underplay the raw anxiety that exists in farm country today. While folks are glad this administration is willing to go toe-to-toe with China on trade, and they look forward to what that means for the future of agriculture, there’s no doubt they are still concerned about the here and now and the difficult situation that currently exists.
It’s not just farmers’ and ranchers’ optimism that I admire. One, they know more about agriculture policy than just about anyone else I know. And two, they aren’t shy. I rarely make a stop in South Dakota these days without hearing about the day-to-day struggles in the agriculture community as well as the many ideas folks have to address it, and I want to thank them for their counsel, especially on trade.
Not only do I take the advice I receive throughout South Dakota seriously, I oftentimes take it directly to the White House – to the Oval Office, if necessary. I’ve met with the president twice in September alone, during which I had the opportunity to advocate for South Dakota’s agriculture producers.
While negotiations with China and other countries are ongoing, there’s one important trade agreement that’s already been completed, and it’s now up to Congress to get it across the finish line. The administration wrapped up its negotiations on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) literally hundreds of days ago. Mexico’s government has already approved it, and Canada is just waiting on the United States to take the next step. We could take that next step, and we could take it quickly, but there’s one thing standing in the way: politics.
If possible, the Senate would be prepared to vote on USMCA tomorrow, but the Democrat-led House of Representatives continues to drag its feet on this deal, which would benefit virtually every sector of our economy – from manufacturing to digital services to the automotive industry. They’re standing in the way of a pro-growth trade agreement that is expected to create 176,000 new U.S. jobs and raise wages for workers.
From my vantage point, this administration has worked in good faith to address many of my Democrat colleagues’ concerns, and I’m encouraged by their ongoing discussions. I just hope Democrats wouldn’t intentionally slow-walk this deal just to prevent a perceived political win for the president. Let me be clear, political parties don’t win with USMCA. America wins, which is why every single living former secretary of agriculture who has served since the Reagan administration – Republican and Democrat – supports USMCA.
Farming and ranching is a tough, unpredictable business. Last year at this time, many of the same parts of the state that have battled this year’s wet weather were facing opposite conditions – a drought. There’s more than enough unpredictability for these folks as it is, which is why we owe it to them to provide as much certainty as possible in the areas that are within our control. That’s exactly why the time is now to pass USMCA.