Rep. Mary Dye: New trade agreement will unleash the shackles from our agricultural industry
“Mr. President, our farmers love you!”
President Trump looked up, smiled, walked over to me and shook my hand. What a moment! It was the culmination of more than a year's worth of effort, seeking support from legislators in Olympia, our local governments, and especially from our farmers for the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
I have a deep love for agriculture. From growing up in Idaho, to studying plant science and crop management at the University of Idaho, and from serving in the Peace Corps overseas where I taught people about agriculture and living off the land — it is my passion.
There is nothing more satisfying than looking across the Palouse and experiencing the beauty of a wheat crop growing on the rolling hills from my home in Pomeroy, knowing this will help to feed thousands of families.
There is nothing more sad than when our own government breaks the entrepreneurial spirit of the American farmer through regulations and agreements that shackle the ability to be productive, cripple competitiveness, and pay to idle some of our most fertile land.
When President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into law on Dec. 8, 1993, he said, “NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs.” And while that may have been the case in some sectors of our national economy, many farmers tell me they feel as though they were left behind.
Over the years while trade and production increased under NAFTA, the U.S. has continued to import more from Canada and Mexico than what we export to them.
Significant restrictions and tariff quotas were imposed on agricultural products through NAFTA, mainly sugar and poultry products, but particularly on our dairy industry, which has suffered mightily. It hampered our ability to have fair market competition.
President Trump called NAFTA “a nightmare” and it was repealed in 2018. However, we need to have a strong trade agreement in place with our north and south neighboring countries. That is especially true for Washington state, which is the most trade dependent state in the nation. We are responsible for one in every four jobs from our $86 billion in yearly exports. It is why I helped lead efforts in our state to support a new trade agreement.
In April, I authored a letter to President Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which was signed by Washington state legislators from both parties in the House and Senate, asking for “the expeditious ratification of the USMCA by Congress to ensure continued free, fair, open and mutually beneficial trade with our northern and southern border neighbors.”
Furthermore, I authored a similar letter to the president, speaker and majority leader in support of the USMCA, signed by many of our local farmers and ranchers who serve as the backbone of the Washington state agricultural economy.
After more than a year of talks, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the USMCA in December, followed by the Senate on Jan. 16.
A few days after the Senate approval, I received an invitation from the White House to attend the bill signing.
I flew to Washington, D.C. and on the morning of Jan. 29, I stood on the White House South Lawn with other supporters of the new trade agreement. Surrounded by workers in hard hats, President Trump said “the new agreement will keep jobs, wealth and growth right here in America.”
As a state representative, representing one of the largest agricultural legislative districts in the state, I thought of our farmers as I watched the president speak.
“This agreement is a tremendous breakthrough for American agriculture,” he said. “Canada will finally provide greater access for American dairy. Canada is opening up. It will grow annual exports to our neighbors by an estimated $315 million. Poultry exports to Canada are expected to rise by at least 50 percent, and egg export could increase by 500 percent.”
This is exactly what we need. President Trump then said something even more noteworthy to our local area; “Very importantly, Canada will finally give fair treatment to American-grown wheat.”
The agreement has already been approved by the Mexican parliament, and Canada is expected to follow with its own ratification. I just can't help but think what an amazing future our agricultural industry has ahead by opening markets and unshackling our farmers to do what they do best — feed the world.
All we want in fair trade to level the playing field, which is what President Trump assures us will happen under the USMCA.
As the crowd began to disperse, I made my way to the front, where I met Vice President Mike Pence. But one of the most memorable highlights was when I shouted out to President Trump, he looked up, saw my red coat and came over to shake my hand.
In that moment, I handed him a small flash drive of a video I did, which discusses another enormous issue of importance for our Eastern Washington farmers — the completion of the Columbia Basin Project for irrigation. This would open even more opportunities for our agricultural economy.
I can only hope he watches it. In any case, I am optimistic that as a farmer, we now have brighter days ahead.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, represents the 9th Legislative District. She serves on the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Mary and her husband, Roger, operate a 3,000-acre dryland wheat farm. They also tend to 3,000 sheep on the farm.