Opinion: Michigan needs revamped trade deal to pass

Rick Johnson
Vice President Mike Pence poses for a group shot with workers at Ford Motor Co.'s Dearborn Truck Plant.

Trade is vital for all businesses in the modern economy and this is especially true for businesses in Michigan. As the former speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, I saw firsthand how important trade is for our businesses across all industries.

From the automakers to farmers, Michigan’s business community produces the finest goods and they rely on access to foreign markets to sell them. Now, President Donald Trump has negotiated an updated free trade agreement with our most important trading partners, Mexico and Canada, and it is up to Congress to ratify this deal.

I urge all of our congressional delegation to push for the swift passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

Michigan has greatly benefited from trade with Mexico and Canada. In 2017, we exported over $39 billion worth of goods to our North American neighbors, and this trade supported 338,000 jobs here in Michigan.

For our automakers, which is undoubtedly the engine for our state’s economy, this deal will allow them to continue to sell their cars to their most important markets as Canada and Mexico export 70% of their cars, or $8.5 billion, to these two countries. We must maintain access to these markets through a modern trade deal or our entire economy will suffer.

This trade deal is also incredibly important for our local farmers. In my role as a past board member for the Michigan Farm Bureau and now president of my local Osceola County Farm Bureau, I often speak with the hard-working folks in the agricultural industry and they consistently share how critical exporting their goods to Mexico and Canada is to the health of their business.

Across the country, farmers export over a fourth of their products to Mexico and Canada, which represented $40 billion in agricultural goods in 2018 alone. Michigan’s agricultural industry is heavily reliant on trade with these countries as well, exporting $2.7 billion of products in 2018. This agricultural trade supports over 20,000 jobs in Michigan. This is why farmers and the agricultural community as a whole are so invested in the passage of the USMCA.

If Congress does not act to pass USMCA, there could be devastating consequences for our local economy. NAFTA may be canceled and there will be tariffs on all of the goods that we send to Mexico and Canada. This would cause thousands of workers in the auto and agricultural industries to lose their jobs and so many businesses would cease to exist. Michigan needs a modern trade deal with Mexico and Canada to retain access to their crucial markets.

Our representatives, especially those from Michigan, must not play politics with the USMCA. They must work in a bipartisan manner to get this deal across the finish line.

The business community and farmers of this country are closely watching this trade deal in Congress and they are eager to see it pass. I would urge all members of Congress to put all of their weight behind passing the USMCA as soon as possible.

Rick Johnson is former speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives.