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Rep. Courtney Votes to Support Connecticut Dairy Farmers in Newly Negotiated, Bipartisan USMCA Trade Deal

December 19, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) and the U.S. House of Representatives voted in bipartisan fashion to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act (USMCA) (H.R. 5430). The final USMCA makes substantive changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was negotiated between the Trump Administration and the governments of Canada and Mexico earlier this year, and represents months of improvements as a result of House Democrats’ advocacy on areas of enforcement, the environment, prescription drug prices, and labor rights. The USMCA passed the House today on a bipartisan basis by a margin of 385-41.

“The USMCA takes an existing flawed agreement, and overhauls it by establishing an enforcement regime with real teeth. It’s the first trade agreement that I’ve supported since coming to Congress, and it’s the strong changes from the original version of the bill that convinced me to vote yes,” said Courtney. “This deal allows our Departments of Labor and State to conduct on-site inspections to guarantee compliance with labor and environmental standards, and removes the exclusivity provisions for pharmaceuticals that would have stripped Congress of its ability to modify patent law. It also helps open up new markets to our dairy farmers, correcting a longstanding unfairness that will provide relief for a sector that has really taken it on the chin with lowered prices caused by the tariff wars.”

On December 10, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal announced changes negotiated with the Trump Administration to the USMCA, which strengthen the trade agreement’s rules and enforcement mechanisms for labor and for environmental protection, and revise the pharmaceutical provisions to promote competition and drive down the high cost of prescription drugs.

Highlights of Improvements to the House-passed USMCA include:

More Market Access to U.S. Exporters of Dairy Products

The USMCA calls for Canada to increase market access specifically to U.S. exporters of dairy products. Specifically:

  • Expands market access into Canada for American dairy producers through duty-free quotas for additional products
  • Eliminates Canadian Class 6 and 7 milk price system, which discriminated against American dairy producers and disproportionately impacted northeast dairy cooperatives—specifically, the Class 7 price system had excluded American producers from selling U.S. specialty products such as ultra-filtered high-protein milk from being sold in Canada
  • Ends Canadian practice of subsidizing export sales of milk powder and milk protein concentrates
  • Strengthens food safety standards and creates a framework to resolve future food safety disputes

Stronger Rules for Workers

The labor rules in U.S. trade agreements have proven difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. The USMCA makes key changes to strengthen the rules:

  • Creates a presumption that a labor violation affects trade and investment and will require the other government to prove otherwise 
  • Creates an interagency committee that will monitor Mexico’s labor reform implementation and compliance with labor obligations
  • Requires ongoing reporting to Congress
  • Establishes key benchmarks for Mexico’s labor reform implementation process, and failure to comply with these benchmarks will lead to enforcement action under the agreement
  • Establishes Labor Attachés that will be based in Mexico and will provide on-the-ground information about Mexico’s labor practices

State-to-state dispute settlement by itself has not been effective to ensure that U.S. trading partners live up to their labor commitments. In recognition of this concern, the USMCA establishes a new and enhanced labor-specific enforcement mechanism that:

  • Takes immediate effect upon entry into force of the agreement
  • Provides for facility-based enforcement of labor obligations in the agreement within a rapid timeframe
  • Covers all manufactured goods and all services traded between the United States and Mexico
  • Requires verification of compliance by independent labor experts, and
  • Leads to penalties on goods and services that are not produced in compliance with the freedom of association and collective bargaining obligations

Stronger Protections for the Environment

The USMCA includes much-improved environmental standards over NAFTA. Top provisions include:

  • Creates a presumption that an environmental violation affects trade and investment and will require the other government to prove otherwise
  • Adds commitment that each country must maintain seven multilateral environment agreements (MEAs), and includes additional language that allows the countries to agree to add to the list of covered MEAs – allowing the U.S., Mexico, and Canada to add the Paris Agreement to the list of the MEAs under a different Presidential Administration in the future

The USMCA creates new mechanisms and allocates additional resources to monitor whether environmental protections are being applied. The agreement:

  • Creates an interagency committee that will:
    • Conduct an assessment of the current environment landscape of Canada and Mexico;
    • Monitor implementation of the environment obligations and recommend enforcement actions in connection to the new NAFTA; and
    • Provide a platform for better coordination, utilization, and funding of U.S. Government efforts to strengthen environment practices amongst NAFTA countries
  • Establishes environment-focused attachés in Mexico City that will regularly monitor Mexico’s environment laws, regulations, and practices

To hold partners and actors accountable to the agreement, the USMCA creates enhanced relevant mechanisms, resources, and commitments:

  • Establishes a new customs verification mechanism to ensure that only legally harvested and taken flora and fauna are traded through Mexico
  • Re-authorizes the North American Development Bank and funds EPA grants under the Border Water Infrastructure Program to address pollution on the U.S.- Mexico border; and
  • Provides for additional funds to the Trade Enforcement Trust Fund to be used for environment focused enforcement efforts

Prescription Drugs

The final USMCA completely removes provisions from the original draft that would have contributed to high prescription drug prices. As a result, the new agreement preserves Congress’s ability to change U.S. law to improve access to affordable medicines.