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Trade agreement to benefit local agriculture

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The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement could increase U.S. dairy farm revenues by as much as $548 million a year, according to information from the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Submitted Photo)

Passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement is important and would benefit agriculture and the region, according to Chaves County commissioners.

The commissioners voted unanimously 5-0 Thursday to pass Resolution 19-042 in support of the agreement negotiated in November 2018 by the Trump Administration, an agreement that has not yet been brought up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“This is extremely important, not only for us here in southeastern New Mexico and Chaves County, but it is of importance to our country,” said Chairman Will Cavin. “We have got to get things moving in the right direction with our trade agreements, and unfortunately there is such resistance and obstruction out in Washington D.C., to accomplish anything for this country that it is really important for us to stand up and take a stand on these things.”

County Manager Stanton Riggs said that a March letter from the commissioners, who are all Republicans, had been provided to New Mexico’s congressional delegation.

“The vice president has a copy of the letter. I gave it to his staff,” added Commissioner Robert Corn. “And I would recommend that a copy of this resolution go to our congressional delegation and the White House. And I don’t know who else, but anyone it is appropriate for it to go to.”

Cavin noted that he also plans to request that the New Mexico Counties Board of Directors pass a similar action during its October meeting and said he hopes that all counties in New Mexico would consider resolutions.

The agreement replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada. According to the county resolution, the agreement “modernizes” NAFTA to take into account today’s technologies and economies and would “provider greater market access for agricultural products, including milk and cheese, which will significantly benefit Chaves County residents and companies.”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative website indicates that New Mexico exported $3.7 billion in domestically produced goods in 2018, making it the nation’s 43rd largest exporter. Mexico is the state’s largest trade partner, receiving $1.4 billion, or 39%, of New Mexico exports in 2018. Canada was the fifth largest market, receiving $116 million in goods. Tree nuts and dairy are the state’s largest agricultural exports, representing $207 million and $189 million in trade in 2017.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat from Las Cruces representing the 2nd Congressional District and southern New Mexico, has said in a recent press conference that she wants “ancillary supportive agreements” added.

“The problem is that Congress was not involved in that discussion at all,” she said about the decision to do away with NAFTA, an action she characterized as disruptive.

She said she has met several times with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to ask about how negotiations concerning the ancillary agreements are going. She said those agreements include enforcing environmental regulations, protecting laborers and workers, and ensuring that people who now buy prescription drugs in Mexico and Canada to save money will not see big increases in their prescription costs.

New Mexico 1st Congressional District Rep. Deb Haaland (D-Albuquerque), was one of several in the House to sign a letter in June asking for changes to USMCA, while 3rd Congressional District Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-Santa Fe) also has voiced concerns about several issues, including the need for more environmental protections.

The USMCA Working Group, a group of Democrats in the House, was scheduled to meet with Lighthizer Friday to discuss the trade agreement.

The USMCA also has many supporters in Congress and elsewhere. A resolution similar to the one passed in Chaves County passed in Dona Ana County in July, although the resolution did state a desire to see changes in the agreement as it stands now. The New Mexico Business Coalition has indicated its support. In May, 68 national industry groups related to food and agricultural signed a letter in support of USMCA.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.