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NFU Board Backs Amended USMCA

13 December 2019

US - In a closely divided vote, the National Farmers Union (NFU) Board of Directors opted to support an amended US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) released earlier this week.

The decision was contingent on a number of changes made to the deal at the insistence of House Democrats, including the omission of a provision that would have granted pharmaceutical companies marketing exclusivity for biologic drugs for a minimum of ten years.

The board, which is comprised of state Farmers Union presidents, was also encouraged by the elimination of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration procedure, as well as the addition of stronger labor standards, more robust enforcement mechanisms, and some modest improvements to environmental protections.

Notwithstanding these revisions, the agreement remains largely similar to its predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in its approach to agriculture. The board expressed disappointment that USMCA neither meaningfully addresses import dumping, nor does it reinstate mandatory Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL), both of which NFU has strongly advocated.

In a statement, NFU President Roger Johnson thanked House Democrats for working to improve the deal and summarized the board’s outstanding concerns: "As it was originally written, USMCA never would have garnered National Farmers Union’s support. Not only did it fail to make significant improvements to NAFTA, but in some ways it was even worse – especially its giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry, which would have led to higher health care costs.

"But thanks to the persistence of Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats, the final deal excludes those giveaways and strengthens labor, environmental, and enforcement provisions.

"Even so, this wasn’t the fair trade deal farmers and ranchers were hoping for. It does nothing to restore COOL, despite its popularity with consumers and farmers alike. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and farmers want to tell them – it’s absurd that this commonsense and mutually beneficial rule still hasn’t been reestablished.

"We are also disappointed that USMCA doesn’t address import dumping, which has depressed domestic commodity prices and undermined the success of family farmers. And while some of the dairy provisions are moderately helpful to farmers in the US, it isn’t enough to justify the corresponding harm to Canada’s supply management system that has served their dairy farmers so well.

"USMCA might be a small step forward, but it’s preceded by many large steps backward. Ultimately, these modest improvements are dwarfed by the immense damage that President Trump has inflicted by destroying our reputation as a reliable trading partner and by wiping out agricultural markets that farmers had worked for decades to build."

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