Congressman rallies local support for free trade pact

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U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady threw down the gauntlet – albeit on a barn’s dirt floor - Tuesday morning for his fellow Texas lawmakers in Washington regarding a new free trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

“A Texas legislator voting against this agreement would be like a Detroit lawmaker voting against cars,” Brady told a crowd of about 30 assembled on Kevin Counsil’s CFLX Ranch for an informational panel in support of the proposed United States Mexico Canada Agreement. “Texas has 36 members in Congress, all 36 need to be voting for this agreement.”

The Madisonville stop was part of a nationwide tour for the group Farmers for Free Trade, which has operated the Motorcade for Trade Whistle Stop tour since April. The group seeks to describe the agricultural impacts of the USMCA and urge support for the measure.

“We’ve logged 6,000 miles on this RV,” said Carrie Clark Phillips, director of policy and partnerships for Farmers for Free Trade.

Phillips explained that the USMCA is designed to update the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

“NAFTA was good for agriculture,” she said. “But it was negotiated before there was an Internet.” The USMCA has a digital trade provision, among many other modernized items.

Brady joined others, including officials from Texas Farm Bureau and Counsil, on a panel to talk about the bill, which he hopes to get signed by the end of year, if not sooner.

“I’d love to see it done this summer,” he said. “If you think the old NAFTA was important, this is even more important.

“This is about selling billions of dollars of products to our two biggest customers.”

Texas Farm Bureau officials at the meeting expressed their agreement with the USMCA and Brady.

“As big as Texas is in agriculture, we just have to do it,” said State Director Larry Joiner. “Free trade is necessary.”

Brady said the Republican-sponsored bill faces some challenges from Democrats that he hopes will alleviate soon, such as labor and environmental provisions. He claims that bipartisan discussions on the bill can address most problems.

“This agreement really addresses the issues Democrats have,” Brady said. “But trade agreements are never easy.”

According to an online fact sheet from the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the new measure “includes language that all parties to adopt and maintain in law and practice labor rights as recognized by the International Labor Organization, to effectively enforce their labor laws, and not to waive or derogate from their labor laws.”

The fact sheet also says the deal includes a “comprehensive set of enforceable environmental obligations of any previous United States agreement, including obligations to combat trafficking in wildlife, timber, and fish; to strengthen law enforcement networks to stem such trafficking; and to address pressing environmental issues such as air quality and marine litter.”

Brady told the assembly that Democrats in Washington are talking privately and moving toward agreement. He also pointed to the decision earlier this month to lift U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum with Canada and Mexico as progress toward the approval of the USMCA.

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