Senator Lankford Calls on Congress to Urgently Pass USMCA
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor in support of the urgent need for Congress to pass the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to open up North American free trade for our nation and for Oklahoma. Lankford serves on the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over trade. In June, Lankford questioned US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the benefits of the USMCA over the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). On October 1, members of the Oklahoma delegation came together to urge the immediate passage of the USMCA.
Madam President, a couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to be able to stand at Iron Horse Industrial Park. It’s a brand new industrial park just outside of Shawnee, Oklahoma. It’s run by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. For almost 10 years they have had the dream of opening up a location in Oklahoma where there could be foreign trade, different countries could come in and be able to do manufacturing there and they would be able to work through raw materials, products, and sales. It’s been a remarkable dream for them. I stood on a platform with the leadership of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, members of the Shawnee community sitting right next to folks from the Canadian Consulate and the Canadian business owner who is opening up a manufacturing plant in just a couple of months right there on that spot to be the first company in that location to start doing international trade in that part of Oklahoma.
That location—Pro Pipe—will start manufacturing pipe that they will send all over the place. It’s a Canadian company, but it will have about 40 or 45 jobs that are Oklahoma jobs that are there. Now, why do I mention that? I mentioned that because it was a reminder again as I stood on that platform next to Canadians, Japanese delegation that was there, Taiwanese delegation that was there, and others from multiple other countries on how integrated we really are. Because if I took you to Shawnee, Oklahoma, it’s some great people and it’s a fantastic community, but the first thing you would think of probably wouldn’t be international trade, but it should be now.
In Oklahoma, our top two trading partners are Canada and Mexico. We have an overwhelming amount of trade just with those two countries. In fact, we exported $2.4 billion worth of goods just to Canada and Mexico last year. We’re a very connected economy, and working through the trade issues is incredibly important to us. That’s why this new trade agreement that replaces NAFTA, which is now decades old and needs a revision, that’s why it is so important. Because our Oklahoma economy depends on a lot on how we trade. A lot of our jobs are connected both through agriculture, manufacturing, digital sales, other financial services that are connected through trade to Canada and Mexico. They cooperate with us, we cooperate with them.
So a new trade agreement started in the negotiation process. It started in August of 2017 with the Trump Administration, Mexico, and Canada all sat down and decided to reopen NAFTA after the Trump Administration put tremendous pressure on Canada and Mexico to update this agreement. Initially, everyone said, ‘Don’t want to change a thing.’ From August 2017 until September of 2018, our three countries negotiated a new trade agreement that all three countries now have come back in their leadership and said, ‘That’s a better deal than what NAFTA was, that works better for everyone.’ It provides new elements on things like digital trade that wasn’t an issue in the 1990s. E-commerce wasn’t a thing at the time; now it is. So there are digital trade updates. There’s also areas about innovation and intellectual property that help protect inventors in all three countries to be able to protect what they have invented and to make sure the benefits come back to the inventers and back to those countries. There’s also new protections for labor. There’s been longstanding issues for labor practices in Mexico, this addresses some of those things and some basic human rights elements for Mexico. It also adds new environmental requirements so that we would take on, as a whole of North America, in our way we do our manufacturing, the way we do fishing, the way that we handle marine litter, the way that we handle sustainable forest management, all of those things would be addressed in this trade agreement.
It is a very comprehensive agreement, the USMCA agreement is, and it is very important that we actually get it passed. But I hope you didn’t miss the timeline that I laid out. The negotiations started in August of 2017. The negotiation finished in September of 2018. And since October of 2018, that agreement has been waiting on a vote in the House of Representatives. Mexico has already long since passed it. They not only passed the agreement, they passed the laws doing the implementing language. They’ve long since passed it. Everyone is waiting for the United States to pass this trade agreement that will help us in labor issues, help us in manufacturing, help us in ag exports, help us in our digital trade, help us in environmental policy. We’re all waiting on the House of Representatives to take it up. We are now past a year that the House has had this. It has to start constitutionally in the House, and I cannot say strongly enough how important this is to able to maintain our momentum in trade with Canada and Mexico that we should not have to wait. Now, some in the House says this is about not giving President Trump a win so they don’t want to vote on it because it will give President Trump a win. This is not about the president of a country. In fact, Mexico has already changed presidents since the time of this agreement. This is about giving the American people a win. This is, quite frankly, to be selfish about the people of Oklahoma getting a win. It’s additional jobs. It’s additional protections. It’s additional opportunities to do investment. And we’d like to be able to see that for my state and for the people of my state.
So I can’t encourage enough the House to be able to take this up. I do want to also compliment the Administration for taking this agreement on. Three years ago no one thought this agreement could be done nor should be done. And now when it’s in the process of being finalized, everyone seems to nodding their head saying, ‘That’s better. Let’s keep going.’
The Administration has also recently struck a deal with Japan. Japan is a trade partner already, just like Canada and Mexico, but we’ve had some problems with Japan. The United States exported $14 billion in food and agricultural products to Japan just in 2018, $14 billion. But of that $14 billion, right at half, $7.2 billion of those had a need to be able to address some of the issues about tariffs and about some additional protections. So this new trade agreement that the Administration just struck with Japan is exceptionally helpful to us. It takes out half of the tariffs, either reduces them or eliminates them entirely of our ag trade back and forth with Japan. Why is that a big deal for Oklahoma? You may say Oklahoma is a long way from Japan, it is, except we ship a lot of beef that way and we can ship a lot more. This agreement specifically deals with things like beef, pork, poultry, sorghum, wheat, those are products that are all coming right out of my state and it is exceptionally important that this agreement has been done. Now, this agreement doesn’t have to come through Congress. It’s an executive agreement. It’s not like the USMCA. It’s done. So we’ve already seen a gain in Oklahoma based on that trade agreement in Japan. If there’s any encouragement I can make to the Administration is, keep doing this. We have further negotiations we need to have completed in the Pacific. And while they’ve done step one with Japan, there’s more to be done with Japan on lowering other tariffs, but we’d also like to see a trade agreement with New Zealand. We’d also like to see a trade agreement with other partners in the Pacific where we still need trade deals done. Keep going and keep expanding markets.
The big issue right now is with China. Our trade issues with China have been significant and they’ve been significant for decades. The last five presidents have all tried to be able to deal with some of the problems with China and trade, their theft of intellectual property, their violations of basic dignity for their workers, their environmental policies that they have in China has been deplorable. We should address the issues of trade with China and we should address how can we further not only cooperate trade but how to deal with some of the inequities of workers and deal with some of the inequities of environmental policy and certainly deal with the theft of intellectual property.
All of these are ongoing as China is one of the worst human rights violators in the world. In our trade negotiations we should talk about things like free press, freedom of religion, opportunities for the Uyghurs in China, literally bound up in concentration camps being reeducated to be more Chinese, rather than being able to live out their faith as Muslims there in China.
There are many issues we need to deal with that go beyond just dollars. It’s how we actually interact with each other. So for the Administration, as they’re finalizing the final moments of how they’re going to deal with the trade deal with China, I continue to encourage them: ‘Keep doing the work. The last five presidents have all tried to resolve issues with China. Keep going. We’ve got to be able to get this done. But hold China to account on human rights issues while we’re also dealing with economic issues. This is our moment to address those critical needs.’