Farmers cheer new trade pact

Corn and soybean farmers are glad to have a trade deal with Canada and Mexico, but Sen. Durbin worries about the Farm Bill

 Cornland is in central Illinois in unincorporated Logan County. Corn farmers are cheering a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Cornland is in central Illinois in unincorporated Logan County. Corn farmers are cheering a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Farmers cheered a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico this week, as Sen. Dick Durbin pressed for Congress to pass a new Farm Bill.

The deal announced Sunday replaces the Clinton administration’s North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with a new deal called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

The Illinois Soybean Association, which has called for “trade not aid” in President Trump’s ongoing trade wars, immediately embraced the new trade pact.

Calling Canada and Mexico “our closest trade partners,” Illinois Soybean Growers Chairwoman Lynn Rohrscheib said the new deal “could provide some support to the soybean industry and customers who use our soybeans.”

According to Rohrscheib, a Fairmount soybean farmer, last year Illinois exported an estimated $350 million in soybeans to Mexico, about 10 percent of its total. But soybean growers still face hurdles with the trade war, especially with China.

“As our Illinois soybean growers harvest a record crop, we have tremendous challenges due to low prices that are the result of tariffs and other barriers,” she added. “We still need access to all markets. We implore the White House to work with our neighbors to end these barriers that are in place. We also need certainty through a new Farm Bill, which allows producers to plan for the future.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday in Chicago that he was still studying the ramifications of the new trade pact, but that the new Farm Bill is “long overdue,” as last year’s technically expired Sunday. He pointed out it’s passed both houses of Congress, but the different versions have yet to be reconciled, and he blamed conservative Republicans in the House.

“The House had its problems,” he said. “They're kind of stuck on one aspect of it, the food-stamp aspect of work requirements, and it stopped them.

“We want to make sure that we get it done sooner rather than later,” Durbin added.

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“We want to make sure that we get it done sooner rather than later.”

Sen. Dick Durbin on a new Farm Bill (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

The Illinois Corn Growers Association also greeted the new trade deal, even as Executive Director Rodney Weinzierl has warned that expiration of the Farm Bill threatens funding for the critical Foreign Market Development program

Citing that Canada and Mexico are two of its top 10 trade partners, association President Aron Carlson of Winnebago said, “The relationships the U.S. has with Canada and Mexico are so important to Illinois corn farmers who export more than half of their crop out of Illinois via corn and corn-coproducts. ICGA very much appreciates the work of the Trump administration and officials of Canada and Mexico for finalizing an agreement and maintaining such important relationships well into the future.”

The deal was rushed in order for it to be signed before Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto leaves office in two months. It still has to pass the legislatures of all three countries.

According to a New York Times report on the deal, it would strengthen unions in Mexico and car manufacturing in the United States, while setting limits on car imports from Canada or Mexico above current levels. U.S. dairy and wine firms would get additional access to Canada, but generic drug sales from Canada would be curtailed by extending U.S. protections on intellectual property in pharmaceuticals.

Ted Cox