Tallahassee Democrat: Secretary Sonny Perdue: USMCA is good for Florida’s farmers | Opinion

Secretary Perdue: USMCA is good for Florida’s farmers | Opinion
Tallahassee Democrat
By Secretary Sonny Perdue
June 13, 2019

USMCA improves virtually every component of the old NAFTA, and Florida’s agriculture industry stands to gain significantly.

Since the inception of NAFTA 25 years ago, agricultural trade between our three countries has boomed — U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico increased approximately 300% and our imports increased almost 500%, benefiting producers and consumers on both sides of our borders.

Certain folks have been saying USMCA will not protect Florida farmers from cheap Mexican fruits and vegetables. They neglect to mention farmers already face such competition under NAFTA. And they overlook the ways the administration is fighting for a level playing field in the seasonal fruit and vegetable market.

Let me give you some data on Florida’s agricultural output. Over the past 10 years under NAFTA, we have seen a 20% increase in vegetable operations and a 47% increase in non-citrus operations. Net farm income grew 37% during that period.

From the USDA’s most recent Census of Agriculture: Acreage in citrus decreased 28% for reasons other than trade, however non-citrus acreage has increased 55%. Berry acreage has grown 68%. Cash receipts for feed crops increased 62% despite depressed commodity prices. That is the beauty of our agricultural system – producers plant for the market, not for the program.

USMCA benefits Florida’s entire agricultural industry. By ensuring better market access and solidifying commitments to science-based trade rules with our top trading partners, USMCA is a big win. After denying access to all our dairy imports, USMCA cracks open Canada’s defensive milk supply management program. With NAFTA, U.S. dairy had zero non-tariff access; now we have close to 4%. This number is higher than what was negotiated with past deals.

For the first time, trading rules specifically address agricultural biotechnology to support innovation and reduce trade-distorting policies. USMCA updates rules of origin for processed fruits to ensure preferences benefit U.S. producers. The new agreement maintains tariff-free access for U.S. beef shipped into Mexico and Canada, providing Florida’s cattlemen continued longstanding market access.

On my first day as secretary, President Trump promised he’d fight for better deals for American farmers – USMCA is proof of that. Our farmers, ranchers and producers have an abundance of the highest quality products they want to sell around the globe. President Trump is laying the foundation for a stronger farm economy through USMCA and other free and fair trade deals.

When President Trump mentioned the possibility of withdrawing from NAFTA, the universal hue and cry from agriculture was “do no harm.” Not only has he done that, he negotiated a better agreement on almost every front.

Sonny Perdue is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, having been appointed by President Trump in 2017. He was Governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011.

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