Costa Voices Valley Concerns at Agriculture Committee NAFTA Hearing
Washington, DC – Today the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing regarding protecting and promoting the agriculture sector during the anticipated renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. NAFTA is an economic and trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and the value of U.S. agricultural trade has increased dramatically since the agreement took effect in 1994. As a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16) focused his time at the hearing on issues critical for the agriculture sector in the San Joaquin Valley, namely trade, labor, and immigration.
“California leads the country in agricultural revenue, and our producers are twice as reliant on foreign trade as the rest of the United States,” said Congressman Costa. “NAFTA partners – Mexico and Canada – account for 22% of California’s agricultural export. In 2015, for that year, Mexico accounted for $3.5 billion in agricultural trade, Canada $1.1 billion. And I just think it’s inaccurate to say that when you look over the last 20 years, in any objective criteria that you measure it by, that it’s been a disaster. It hasn’t.”
Rep. Costa also asked the panel of experts testifying before the committee, “Is there any chance that a renegotiated agreement could lead to improved conditions for migrant agricultural workers – [of] which we are in short supply in the United States – or is it more likely that the labor force will relocate to Mexico if the agreement boosts economic productivity there?” The panel responded with uncomfortable laughter, and one expert muttered, “I don’t know.” Tom Vilsack, former Secretary of the USDA who represented the dairy industry during the hearing, then said the U.S.’s broken immigration system is impacting and affecting dairy production. Costa replied, “It’s affecting all of agriculture.”
Congressman Costa ended his questioning with, “Who was the big winner, in your opinion, when we walked away from TPP?” There was a consensus on the panel that China won, with Vilsack stating that the European Union also won with regards to dairy products.
The agricultural products traded the most among NAFTA countries include meat and dairy products as well as fruits, tree nuts, and vegetables. These are the most produced agricultural commodities in the San Joaquin Valley and central to the area’s economy.