Think back 25 years ago (if you’re old enough to do so). Remember, we were all watching "Friends," trying to eat low-fat and still lacking blue M&Ms. Cell phones were only good for expensive voice calls, and a mere two million computers connected to the internet, because there wasn’t much there — Yahoo and Amazon had only just been founded.
It’s clear that 1994 was a very different time. It was also the year one of our nation’s most important trade pacts was signed. The North American Free Trade Agreement launched an economic expansion and supported millions of trade-supported jobs across the U.S. But the agreement’s authors could not predict the world we would live in now.
To continue to reap the many benefits of free trade, we must modernize NAFTA. U.S. negotiators recently secured a new and better deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. Congress is expected to consider and vote on the final agreement later this year, and California’s 53 U.S. representatives could be the key to successful ratification.
Our elected leaders should act swiftly to capitalize on this opportunity. America’s neighboring countries are leading purchasers of our state’s output, from computer equipment to automotive parts to food and beverages. Encouraging more trade between our three nations could add $68 billion to the U.S. economy and 176,000 jobs nationwide, according to the United States International Trade Commission.
As a lifelong dairy farmer with 3,200 cows bred, born, raised and milked on my land, I am particularly impressed with the boost the USMCA will give U.S. agriculture. America could add over $2 billion in farm exports, according to the American Farm Bureau. This will help preserve and increase the Golden State’s nearly 240,000 jobs and $29 billion in economic activity reliant on agriculture.
The stakes are particularly high for dairy producers like me. The National Milk Producers Federation estimates that retaliatory tariffs have cost U.S. dairy farmers $1.5 billion, and low prices over the past few years have been putting farms in jeopardy. USMCA will help protect the $1.4 billion in existing dairy sales to Mexico while adding another $314 million in exports, per a U.S. International Trade Commission report on the trade agreement.
The USMCA is also vital for manufacturing. Three out of four California manufacturing firms export to the participating countries, and these sales represent about one-quarter of our state’s manufacturing exports, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. Without a free trade agreement, steep tariffs would slash sales and harm our local businesses. With the USMCA, we can count on growth.
Finally, with California leading the tech sector, filmmaking and other creative and innovative enterprises, we have a huge stake in intellectual property. When other countries permit pirating, or worse, encourage theft of our trade secrets, U.S. companies and jobs suffer. That’s why the USMCA upgrades IP protections and enhances digital rules. Other provisions would also reduce anti-competitive behavior by government-owned enterprises, so our independent companies can compete on equal footing.
USMCA is a vast improvement on NAFTA with substantial upsides for American agriculture, industry and families. It will remove the uncertainty from the trade relationships with our nearest neighbors and position the U.S. for greater prosperity.
The fact is, it’s not 1994 anymore. We must update this continent’s trade terms for the 21st century. To do it, politics should be set aside. It doesn’t matter which president’s name is on the deal, every lawmaker, Republican and Democrat, should support the USMCA and bring the benefits home to America.
Nathan Tjaarda is the owner of Tjaarda Dairy and a member of Dairy Farmers of America.