North Carolina’s agricultural sector is our economy’s largest and most important. Some 50,000 farms support one out of six North Carolina jobs — more than 633,000 altogether. Agriculture generates $87 billion in economic activity each year for North Carolina families.
But despite the impressive statistics, ask any farmer and they’ll tell you: American farms are struggling. Prices have been low for the past several years — and they’ve stayed low. Profit margins have disappeared entirely and farm income is half of what it was five to six years ago. Our agricultural trade surplus has fallen to just $10.9 billion, the lowest since 2007. These staggering statistics demonstrate just how precariously our farm economy stands today.
Affordable, legal labor is scarce because of an overly-bureaucratic and costly farm labor program. And a string of natural disasters — including Hurricanes Matthew and Florence — continue to wreak havoc on North Carolina’s farm families.
Many of these factors are beyond Congress’ control. But there is one step lawmakers can take to bring relief to our farmers: passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, better known as USMCA. It modernizes and improves NAFTA, which has helped grow U.S. agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico from $9 billion to almost $40 billion since the treaty’s enactment in 1994.
Supported by farm bureaus, farmers, and agricultural organizations across the country, USMCA builds off of NAFTA’s success and will help our agriculture sector increase exports to our most important trading partners.
It expands market access in Canada, North Carolina’s second-largest export customer, for a host of food and agricultural products. It eliminates tariffs, cracks down on market-distorting trade practices, improves transparency and reduces discrimination against American-grown farm products.
USMCA will also facilitate new, 21st century innovations in agriculture and biotechnology — many of which North Carolina has been on the forefront.
Importantly, it will provide much-needed certainty and stability for farmers as they plan for the future. A new report by the International Trade Commission confirms the USMCA will be a boon for U.S. farmers. It predicts a $2.2 billion boost to U.S. agriculture exports as a result of the agreement — creating and sustaining thousands of American farm jobs in the process.
In 2017, Canada and Mexico accounted for 28% of America’s agricultural exports. USMCA will help that market grow, and the end result will be more customers for our agricultural products and more certainty for the farmers that produce them.
The USMCA is an opportunity to bring some much-needed relief and certainty to farm families. It’s time Speaker Pelosi allows for a vote on this trade agreement so that Congress can approve it swiftly.
Congressman David Rouzer represents North Carolina’s 7th District in the United States House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, where he serves as the top Republican on the Livestock & Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee.