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At Senate Finance Committee Markup Hearing, Portman Urges Support for USMCA


January 7, 2020

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WASHINGTON, DC – This morning at a Senate Finance Committee markup hearing, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) highlighted his support for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Trade Agreement, which will strengthen our economy and support American workers, farmers, and manufacturers. Portman supports the more modern USMCA to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in part because it includes new and enforceable environmental and labor standards, a new section on digital trade, expanded opportunities for agricultural trade, and new opportunities for auto jobs in America. The Senate Finance Committee approved USMCA by a strong, bipartisan vote of 25-3. The agreement now awaits consideration before several other committees before it heads to the Senate floor for final passage.

A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Mr. Chairman, thank you, and I want to particularly commend the team at USTR for negotiating this. Bob Lighthizer is not with us this morning because he’s working on the next agreement but it’s great to have some of the staff here. I want to particularly point out John Melle who is a professional staffer with whom I had the opportunity and the privilege to work with when I was at USTR and he was the chief staff negotiator. This has been over two years of hard work. Frankly, it sat up in the House for over a year. It’s exciting that we’re finally here and that we’re going to get this done because it’s good for Ohio and it’s good for America.

“It’s also important to me that there was a strong vote in the House because it shows that trade can be bipartisan and that we do have a consensus in this country that we want to export more, we want to do more trading because trading is good for our country. I support USMCA because I believe it is a pro-trade agreement. It opens new markets. That was talked about earlier. John Thune just talked about its benefits for agriculture. That’s certainly true. But also in other ways.

“It reduces trade uncertainty with the first ever digital trade chapter for NAFTA. Really important because this is increasingly part of trade. Particularly in Ohio, we have a lot of internet companies that are going to benefit from this. It also eases the customs burden for small sellers by raising the protectionist de minimis caps in Canada and Mexico, I wish it could be even more but this is great success. And again congratulations on what I know was some tough negotiating there, it helps a lot of our small businesses in Ohio.

“I’ve already mentioned the internet economy rules that avoid the kind of digital protectionism that otherwise could happen, but also this level the playing field issue that was talked about earlier. My colleague from Ohio and others have talked about this. The rules of origin is really important to Ohio. We’re the number two auto state in the country. Auto manufacturing has become increasingly high-tech. These rules of origins for cars are important because they’ve begun to leak as parts have come in from China and frankly other countries that have been free riders on the NAFTA preference so I think that’s appropriate. I don’t know why it’s considered to be inappropriate to say, ‘Look, if you have an agreement with the United States, we’ll give you this preference. If you don’t have an agreement, you can’t free ride on our agreement by coming in.’ Frankly what it’s going to do is encourage other countries to have trade agreements with us so I think it’s a good thing for expanding trade.

“The rules of origin also require that 70 percent of the steel in vehicles made in North America is made in North America. That’s the first time as well and I think that’s also important. And this is all in USMCA but not in NAFTA. The NAFTA labor and environmental standards have been talked about. They were promises on paper but not enforceable under NAFTA, now they are enforceable. It updates the standards as well which hasn’t been talked about as much and that’s important just to bring a 25 year-old agreement up to speed. We had to do that.

“So, look. Is it perfect? No. No agreement is perfect but this is a big improvement and a vote for USMCA is a vote for these improvements, a vote against it, of course is a vote for the status quo. I’m pleased that Sharon and Gary Pleines who are in Columbus, Ohio who have contacted me are now going to be able to, in their budding eBay business to be able to have more access to Canada and Mexico, our biggest trading partners from Ohio by far. I’m pleased that Frank Burkett, who has contacted me, he’s a dairy farmer whose farm I visited in Canal Fulton, Ohio is going to be able to sell more to Canada and get his prices up. I’m pleased that our auto-workers around our state are going to have a more level playing field. This is all critical and all why I think it’s so important that we do move forward with this agreement today. So again, congratulations Mr. Chairman. I look forward to being a yes today and getting this onto the Senate floor as soon as possible.”  

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