WASHINGTON — The House Committee on Ways and Means on Tuesday, Dec. 17, approved by a voice vote the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act (H.R. 5430). The legislation was referred to the full House of Representatives, which was scheduled to vote on the measure on Dec. 19. The Senate was expected to vote on the implementing bill early next year.
Just a day before the Ways and Means Committee vote, a final drama played out in Washington that nearly saw the deal scotched. Jesús Seade Kuri, Mexico’s under secretary for North America and its chief trade negotiator, made a beeline to Washington for an urgent Monday morning meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to raise Mexico’s concerns about the U.S.M.C.A. implementing legislation the Trump administration submitted to Congress on Friday, Dec. 13.
The legislation included authorization for up to five Labor Department attaches to be dispatched to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico to work with their Mexican counterparts, workers and civil society groups on implementing Mexican labor reform. The Mexican government was concerned that these U.S. diplomats might demand the right to enter and investigate Mexican factories or facilities if they believed workers there were being denied rights under the labor reform.
The Mexican government asserted this was not part of the revised U.S.M.C.A. agreement signed by representatives of Canada, the United States and Mexico on Dec. 10. Furthermore, such investigations by U.S. officials would infringe on Mexican sovereignty and would be in violation of Mexican law.
Mr. Lighthizer in the meeting with Mr. Seade and in an official letter sent following the meeting assured the Mexican government the U.S. labor attaches would not be sent to Mexico as inspectors and they would abide by all relevant Mexican laws.
Instead, if there were “good faith questions” about whether workers at a particular facility were being denied their rights, the matter would be referred to a three-person panel chosen by both parties, and it was these independent panel members who would be authorized to conduct on-site investigations should the need arise.
This was part of the revised U.S.M.C.A., and Mr. Seade was satisfied with the clarification, which opened the way for the House votes on the agreement.
The revised U.S.M.C.A.’s provisions on agriculture were unchanged from the previous version that had been agreed by the governments of the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2018.
Under the U.S.M.C.A., all food and agriculture products that have had zero tariffs under the North American Free Trade Agreement will continue to enjoy zero tariff access to the partner nations’ markets.
Additionally, the U.S.M.C.A. will create new market access opportunities for U.S. exports to Canada of dairy, poultry and eggs, and in exchange, the United States will provide new access for Canada for some dairy, peanut and a limited amount of sugar and sugar-containing products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative noted current exports of U.S. dairy products to Canada are valued at about $619 million (2017). Building on this trade, Canada has agreed to provide new tariff rate quotas exclusively for the United States. The agreement includes market access gains for the following: fluid milk, cheese, cream, skim milk powder, butter and cream powder, concentrated and condensed milk, yogurt and buttermilk, powdered buttermilk, products of natural milk constituents, ice cream and ice cream mixes, and other dairy. The agreement also increased access for whey and margarine.
Additionally, six months after the U.S.M.C.A. enters into force , Canada will eliminate its milk price classes 6 and 7. In so doing, Canada will ensure that the price for skim milk solids used to produce nonfat dry milk, milk protein concentrates and infant formula will be set no lower than the levels based on the U.S. price for nonfat dry milk. Canada also committed to adopt measures designed to limit the impact of any surplus skim milk production on external markets.
The value of U.S. exports to Canada of poultry and eggs products is about $600 million (2017). In addition to preserving this trade, Canada agreed to provide new, higher tariff rate quotas for the United States for chicken, eggs and egg products and turkey.
Under the agreement, Canada also agreed to terminate a provision in its wheat grading system that automatically downgraded U.S. wheat delivered across border to Canadian elevators.
Additionally, the agreement addresses agricultural biotechnology — including new technologies such as gene editing — to support innovation and reduce trade-distorting policies, the U.S.D.A. said. It institutes a more rigorous process for establishing geographical indicators and lays out additional factors to be considered in determining whether a term is a common name.
The three countries also agreed to strengthen disciplines for science-based measures that protect human, animal, and plant health while improving the flow of trade.
Farm and agribusiness organizations were elated as the U.S.M.C.A. implementing legislation worked its way through congressional approval. Among those eagerly awaiting final adoption of the free trade agreement was Andy Harig, vice-president of tax, trade, sustainability and policy development at the Food Marketing Institute, who said, “This new North American trade agreement maintains and secures the existing supply chain, resulting in continued growth in U.S. food and beverage exports. The U.S.M.C.A. supports U.S. jobs and enables grocers to keep feeding families and enriching the lives of American consumers."