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Pence visits Artesia, urges trade deal action

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From left, Wilbur Ross, U.S. secretary of commerce, Vice President Mike Pence and David Bernhardt, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, answer follow-up questions after an event in Artesia focused on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Wednesday afternoon. (Alison Penn Photo)
Vice President Mike Pence greets the audience at an event in Artesia focused on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Wednesday afternoon. (Alison Penn Photo)

ARTESIA — Standing before a receptive crowd during a visit to southeast New Mexico Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence implored New Mexicans Wednesday to press Congress to pass a new trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

In his 10-minute address frequently interspersed with applause and cheers, Pence said the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, would be a boon to the U.S. economy and help further energy development.

“So the USMCA is not just a win for America, it is a big win for New Mexico and we’ve got to get Congress to pass it into law,” Pence told the crowd who braved the heat in a parking lot at Elite Well Services in Artesia.

The event also included speeches from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt,  as well as a roundtable discussion by local business leaders on the potential benefits of the USMCA.

The USMCA, is a revised version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, passed by Congress and signed into law in 1993. The USMCA was agreed to by the three countries in October 2018.

Although Mexico’s Senate and Canada’s House of Commons have both voted to approve the trade pact that Pence called the largest trade deal in history, the United States Congress has still not taken up the USMCA for a vote.

“The truth is that the president has done his job, Mexico and Canada have done their job and now Congress needs to do their job and pass the USMCA and pass it this year,” Pence said.

Kelly Sadler, a spokesperson for America First Policies, a nonprofit organization promoting conservative policies advocated by the Trump administration, stated Tuesday, that Wednesday’s event in New Mexico was to help pressure members of Congress to pass the USMCA this fall.

“We’re going to key congressional districts where congressional votes are needed, and the constituents would benefit most from this historic trade deal,” Sadler said.

Pence told the crowd adoption of the agreement will boost the U.S. economy and level the global playing field that critics of NAFTA said has been tilted toward other nations at the expense of the American industry and workers.

Citing numbers from the International Trade Commission, Pence said the USMCA, if passed, is expected to pump an additional $70 billion into U.S. economy and spur the creation of nearly 180,000 American jobs.

Pence said border states such as New Mexico stand to gain the most from passage of the USMCA, as nearly half of all New Mexico exports go to either Mexico or Canada — trade that supports 50,000 jobs.

Provisions of the USMCA will allow American companies to continue building the infrastructure needed to carry American oil and gas into Mexico, keep Mexican energy resources open to development and guarantee no tariffs on American oil, Pence said.

Canada and Mexico now receive 30% of America’s exported oil, Pence said.

“And that number is only going to increase when the USMCA is signed into law,” he said.

In a statement Thursday, New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said the prosperity of the U.S. is inextricably linked to Mexico, and that he would continue to fight for strengthening the relationship, while also pushing for workers’ rights and improved standards that benefit New Mexico.

However, he also criticized the Trump administration’s record on trade.

“Too often, the Trump administration’s reckless approach to trade and to our relationship with Mexico has caused pointless uncertainty for New Mexico’s economy, border communities and working families. We need to implement improvements to the USMCA that ensure border states and communities continue to thrive while creating strong, enforceable protections for workers and the public. Otherwise, this whole process will have caused chaos and disruption for no benefit,” Udall said Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small — a Democrat whose district includes Artesia, and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich — also a Democrat — did not respond to requests for comment on the USMCA before press time Wednesday.

Pence highlighted the administration’s record on the economy and energy production during his visit to Artesia, a community on the oil-rich Permian Basin, which Pence called the engine of America’s energy renaissance.

Next year for the first time in 70 years, the U.S. is set to be a net energy exporter.

“And you are making that happen,” Pence said to the audience.

With an eye to the 2020 election, Pence also urged members in the audience to reject policies, such as the Green New Deal, a policy pushed by some progressives to shift toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.

“We’ve got to say yes to President Trump’s vision for energy and no to any candidate for president who wants to eliminate fossil fuels or stand in the way of America’s energy future,” he said.

The visit to Artesia marks the second visit by Pence to southeastern New Mexico in less than a year. He visited Roswell in October for a campaign rally ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Pence’s plane landed Wednesday at the Roswell International Air Center where he was greeted by Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh before heading to Artesia.

“We are honored that he has been to our town three times now, once as a candidate, and twice as a vice president,” Kintigh said. “It shows that Roswell and southeast New Mexico are important to the state and the nation.”

At a press conference following the event, Pence said that he believes New Mexico will be “in play” in the 2020 election.

Democrat Hillary Clinton won New Mexico’s five electoral votes by 8 points in 2016 against Trump and Pence.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.