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Harvest aerial

A winter wheat crop is harvested south of Billings in this aerial view on August 12, 2018.

The clock is running to get the United States Mexico Canada Agreement approved by Congress.

If you think this North American trade pact doesn't concern Montana, think again. In an April report, the International Trace Commission concluded that USMCA provisions "would be expected to increase U.S. exports of wheat and alcoholic beverages to Canada. ... The combined effect of all USMCA provisions would increase total annual U.S. agricultural and food exports by $2.2 billion (1.1 percent) when fully implemented." 

President Trump signed the treaty last year, along with leaders of Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement enacted in 1994. The legislative bodies of the three nations have yet to ratify it.

The Trump administration started the congressional approval clock running last week by issuing a statement of administrative action. The White House now must present USMCA legislation by July 9, according to Brian Kuehl, of Farmers of Free Trade. Congress then will have 90 days to consider the measure.

Kuehl says the measure probably won't be acted on until after Labor Day, but he believes approval is "absolutely achievable this year."

The Trump administration last month removed steel and aluminum tariffs it had earlier placed on Canadian and Mexican imports, a move that those countries insisted on before they would ratify the USMCA. The Mexican government recently enacted labor law reforms that some members of the U.S. Congress demanded before they would support the agreement. 

Then last week President Trump unilaterally threatened to impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods starting June 10 to pressure Mexico to stop Central American immigrants from flowing into the United States, a move that trade policy watchers worry may be an obstacle to Mexico staying with USMCA.

The trade provision of greatest importance to Montana is Canada's agreement to grade imports of U.S. wheat "in a manner no less favorable than it accords Canadian wheat, and not to require a country of origin statement on its quality grade or inspection certificate."

When Farmers for Free Trade organized a 3,500-mile road tour through the United States to promote the USMCA, Michelle Erickson-Jones invited them to stop at her farm near Broadview. Eighty percent of Montana wheat is exported, the past president of Montana Wheat Growers pointed out. Most of her wheat goes to Japan, but Canada is an important market for other growers.

In Washington, D.C., she told the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee that the revised North America trade pact is an "important win" that assured the "grade wheat gets in the U.S. is the grade it gets in Canada."

The new pact also would add language on ag biotech trade, something that barely existed when the original North American Free Trade Agreement was launched.

Max Baucus, former U.S. senator and ambassador to China, supports the USMCA because "trade agreements are good for America. They are good for Montana."

Montana's U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte need to hear from Montanans on trade, Baucus said. "Montanans need to tell the delegation what to do."

"This is one of the most important actions Congress will or won't take this year," Baucus said on a visit to Billings. "It is very important to pass this to give certainty to U.S. and Montana farmers and ranchers."

"What needs to be done is to fight opposition with facts," Baucus said. About $720 million in Montana products are sold to Mexico and Canada.

Montanans should look at the facts, as Baucus advised. The USMCA doesn't drastically change the provisions of NAFTA, but it will put U.S. and Montana wheat on a level field with Canadian competitors. 

The balance of trade matters in Montana. Daines is on record in support of USMCA; tell Tester and Gianforte to vote for Montana agriculture by supporting USMCA.

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