With Mexico’s recent approval of the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and an expectation that Canada will take up a similar vote within weeks, U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI 4th Congressional District) said “it’s time for Congress to step up and do its job.”
“Canada and Mexico are such strong trading partner for the U.S. — it’s an opportunity for us to show international cooperation and leadership,” Moolenaar told farmers attending an annual Dinner on the Farm event, sponsored by county Farm Bureaus within his district. “I’m hoping Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi will bring it up for a vote sometime soon.”
While acknowledging there are opponents with wage, labor and enforcement concerns, Moolenaar said he believes there’s enough bi-partisan support to get the agreement passed, despite the political gamesmanship that has held up the trade deal so far.
“There are some who do not want to give the president a win – that’s the political side of this issue,” Moolenaar said. “But, if we put USMCA up for a vote tomorrow, it would pass. In my view, the sooner we can pass it, the better.”
Turning to China trade negotiations and the ongoing retaliatory tariffs, Moolenaar said there’s no doubt that U.S. agriculture has been unfairly targeted and impacted — a concern he’s shared with President Donald Trump.
“But I also agree with the president, in terms of confronting China and their unfair trade practices. I think he has rightly pointed out they’ve been stealing our technology and putting up barriers to U.S. products for years,” Moolenaar said. “If we didn’t confront the China trade issues now, it would only be much worse later on.”
Ag Labor & immigration
Responding to questions about Immigration Reform and addressing agriculture’s labor challenges, Moolenaar said legislation attached to a pending border security funding bill would create an H2C visa category to allow year-around employment, which is something the current H2A seasonal worker visa prohibits.
“Immigration reform requires political courage,” Moolenaar said. “If we did it based on common-sense, we could get it done. I recognize the need to make sure that we have the workforce needed for Michigan agriculture to thrive.”
Related side-issues, however, such as detention centers and the ongoing “Wall”-funding debate — combined with inadequate border security — are sending the wrong messages and creating a “huge human tragedy,” Moolenaar said.
“We need to secure our borders first and quit sending the message that if you can get to the U.S.-Mexico border that you will be allowed access,” Moolenaar added. “If people could get over the political process, we should be able to secure our borders and address visa reforms.
“But it’s a big group project, and we’re not working together very well.”
When questioned about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “harassment” targeting Michigan farms, Moolenaar acknowledged hearing that concern quite often and said the state’s one of the tops in terms of ICE enforcement action.
“We’ve expressed our concerns to U.S. Customs,” he said. “ICE Agents have their mission, and they don’t always get it right.
USDA & 2018 Farm Implementation
Moolenaar’s role as a member on the Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which has oversight of USDA funding, has provided a bird’s-eye view of progress on 2018 Farm Bill implementation.
“In general, it’s being implemented well,” Moolenaar said. “Provisions such as Telemedicine and Rural Broadband to improve access to the internet in rural America are vital. There’s also funding for Opioid prevention and treatment, an issue has hit rural America very hard.”
Moolenaar commended USDA responsiveness to the plight of farmers plagued by heavy spring rains and delayed planting throughout the upper Midwest.
“Secretary (Sonny) Perdue knows agriculture, he knows how to get things done, and he knows what agriculture needs. He’s been an effective spokesman for agriculture and an advocate within the Trump administration,” he said.