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While a chorus of business and industry leaders is fighting for Congressional approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, some sources believe the near-term outlook appears cloudy at best for the deal.

On March 11, the Pass USMCA Coalition, an alliance of business groups advocating for the swift passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, began its first major advertising campaign.

The television and digital advertisements highlight the benefits of the modernized North American trade pact and encourage voters to urge their Congressional representatives to ratify the deal, according to the release.

“The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement will propel American trade into the 21st century,” Gary Locke, honorary co-chairman of Pass USMCA, said in the release. “Millions of Americans who see this first commercial will know it benefits workers and the economy.”

The TV ad can be seen at PassUSMCAnow.org.

The White House also has been lobbying Congress for action, but with little success so far.

House lawmakers have told media that the agreement may not be presented for approval until late summer at the earliest, said Richard Owen, vice president of global business development at the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

While the discord between the U.S. and Mexico on tomato trade issues could complicate consideration of the North American trade deal, overall trade politics are present more of an obstacle, Owen said.

House Democratic leaders may want concessions before they take the agreement up, Owen said.

While the agreement can’t be renegotiated, there could be side letters or implementation language that could help one industry or another.

Whether that type of “side deal” could include tomatoes is unknown, Owen said.

If there was some kind of special treatment for tomatoes, however, Owen said lawmakers representing other industries would also want a chance help their constituents, which could tangle the process.

“So there will certainly be a push within the (tomato) industry to do that (but) whether they’re successful is probably unknown right now.”

In terms of other trade issues, Owen said it was good news that President Trump has indefinitely postponed his previous plan to increase or add new tariffs on Chinese goods on March 1.

“The hope in doing that is to give some more room for negotiators to reach agreement on the current tariffs,” he said. “This is some breathing room now for negotiations to continue to take place,” Owen said.

There is no apparent quick path for current retaliatory tariffs on U.S. produce to exports to China to be lifted soon, he said.
With the U.S. still enforcing a tariff on Mexican steel and aluminum imports, Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs on apples and other goods also remain in place, Owen said. There is no indication when they will be lifted.

Some lawmakers may ask for Trump to lift U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico before they consider the U.S. Canada Mexico Agreement, Owen said.

The U.S. and the United Kingdom are talking about trade issues, but Owen said the U.S. produce industry is most interested in getting current trade problems solved.

“Getting the U.S. (Canada) Mexico trade agreement approved and in place and getting the China tariffs removed are probably the highest priorities, and the ones that would affect the greatest parts of the industry,” he said

Desmond O’Rourke, economist and president of Pullman, Wash.based Belrose Inc., said Trump’s trade ambitions have been difficult to achieve.

“Trump took on too many trade battles at one time and is having a hard time getting any of them wound up,” he said.

While Trump had earlier threatened to terminate the existing North American Free Trade Agreement if the new trade deal doesn’t pass, some media commentators speculate that is likely only a bluff.

O’Rourke believes continuing the existing deal wouldn’t find any objections in the Northwest tree fruit industry.

“The current agreement didn’t seem to be causing problems to anybody except Trump,” he said.

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