By: Andy Harig, Vice President, Tax, Trade, Sustainability & Policy Development, Food Marketing Institute
At a Labor Day BBQ, my niece made it clear that she was not looking forward to going back to school. Isn’t it exciting, I asked her, getting to make new friends, being exposed to new ideas and beginning a new year with a fresh slate? The horrified look on her face made it clear that she had now moved me onto her list of out-of-touch adults who completely forgot what it was like to be sixteen and starting a new school year.
Congress returns to work today from their summer recess and many of them must be feeling similarly overwhelmed by all the “newness,” particularly when it comes to efforts to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). There are 89 freshman House members in the 116th Congress and nine new Senators. Most, if not all these individuals, have not voted on a trade agreement in any context and many come from professions where the impacts and benefits of trade would not have played any role.
The USMCA’s predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), helped transform supermarkets and grocery stores, expanding access to healthy and affordable fresh fruit, vegetables and other foods. Avocadoes, peppers, tomatoes, nuts and countless other products are available outside the U.S. growing season thanks to trade with our NAFTA partners. The agreement also opened new markets for U.S. agricultural products, helping to develop supply chains and trade flows that industry depends upon. Mexico and Canada are now the two largest purchasers of U.S. exports.
The average age of freshmen members of Congress is only 49; 25-year-old NAFTA has been in place for more than half of most of their lives and virtually all of their time as adult shoppers. Food retailers need to reach out to their Congressional delegation and tell the story of the industry’s development and trade’s role in creating the safest, healthiest, most affordable food supply in the world.
Passing the USMCA is of vital importance to the food retail industry and it is incumbent on us to work with and help educate members of Congress – particularly new members – about the benefits of this agreement for America’s consumers.
The USMCA will improve on NAFTA, modernizing it for the 21stcentury and securing the gains of the last 25 years for future generations. Areas like biotechnology and e-commerce that were in their infancy when the original deal was negotiated are addressed as are science-based food safety standards that reflect the growth of knowledge in the field. These benefits need to be shared with Congress and used to urge passage of the USMCA. But if Shakespeare is right that the past is prologue, the story of the USMCA begins with NAFTA. That is history we also need to remember and share.
Retailers and their associates interested in asking Congress to support passage of the USMCA are encouraged to sign on to a multi-industry letter that will be delivered to Members later this month.
Sign The Letter