Ham(m)er Time!: The path to USMCA goes through Arizona

Congress’ six-week recess is underway. The annual getaway from Washington began as an escape from the city’s brutal August humidity long before the advent of air conditioning. But what was once a chance for Members of Congress to get a little R&R back home has become an increasingly hectic time for constituent meetings and town halls. Advocacy groups—including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry—make productive use of this time to tee up action on critical issues for the fall.

This year’s recess is likely the most important August break Congress has taken in years. That’s because much work awaits when Capitol Hill is back in full swing after Labor Day, and no issue is more important than the need to secure congressional adoption of USMCA, the United State-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

USMCA’s passage in not only needed because it delivers the right policy, but it does so at the right time. With the U.S. and China embroiled in an increasingly nasty trade battle that has cut off U.S. agricultural exports to one of the world’s biggest markets, the urgency to maintain tariff-free North American trade has only increased.

The USMCA brings U.S. trade policy into the 21st century. The agreement is a substantive upgrade over the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been essential to solidifying North America’s place as the globe’s most competitive region. But NAFTA’s showing its age. A quarter-century’s worth of progress in e-commerce, just-in-time manufacturing, and express shipping have made it necessary for an upgrade that preserves the tariff-free trade model, but that is in alignment with the realities of today’s economy.

The path to ratification begins in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has struggled to strike a consensus between her moderate and progressive flanks on various USMCA provisions. Arizona House Democrats can help bridge that divide.

Three Arizonans in particular—Rep. Greg Stanton, Rep. Tom O’Halleran, and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick—bring to the USMCA issue the perspective of members of Congress representing potentially swing districts in an increasingly competitive state at a presidential level and who have seen the tremendous benefits robust tariff-free trade has delivered for their constituents.

Rep. Stanton has already demonstrated a deep and genuine desire to forge stronger relationships with Canada and Mexico. During his time as Phoenix mayor, you’d be hard-pressed to find another city leader across the country who understood the promise of increased trade and its ability to lift up economies and unite cultures like Rep. Stanton.

I had the pleasure of accompanying the former mayor on several trade missions to Mexico. He was and is an outstanding ambassador for the metro region and the entire state.

In his first session in Congress, Rep. Stanton is putting his experience to good use by staking his claim as a leader on trade in the Democratic caucus. He deserves tremendous credit for joining with 13 of his Democratic colleagues on a letter to the speaker urging her to take up USMCA when Congress reconvenes.

But it’s not just metro area members of Congress whose constituents will benefit from USMCA. Rural communities, like those represented by Rep. O’Halleran, whose district encompasses most of Northern and Eastern Arizona, would benefit greatly from the maintenance of tariff-free agricultural trade, which keeps Arizona-grown products competitive on store shelves in Canada and Mexico. A ratified USMCA is also good news for the emerging manufacturing and logistics sector in fast-growing Pinal County, where industries like next-generation electric truck and car manufacturing are poised to thrive thanks to a deeply integrated automotive supply chain connecting Arizona and Northern Mexico.

Border communities, like those in Rep. Kirkpatrick’s district, win under USMCA too. Already trade and cross-border tourism hubs because of their connection to buzzing international ports of entry, cities from Douglas to San Luis can grow their logistics offerings to service the increased trade volumes that will result from the modernized agreement. As Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls told Chamber Business News, “We need to really be communicating with Congress that this is something we do not want—but need—in order to keep our economy moving in the right direction and keep our economy strong with Mexico.”

Rep. Kirkpatrick’s support for USMCA would also be a welcome nod to Southeastern Arizona’s longtime position at the forefront of trade policy. Her district was once represented by Rep. Jim Kolbe, who over 25 years ago was one of NAFTA’s lead authors. Our delegation should preserve that legacy.

Arizona’s trade with Mexico last year reached nearly $17 billion. Trade with our USMCA partners Mexico and Canada is responsible for well over 200,000 Arizona jobs. The Arizona congressional delegation can ensure that those numbers grow and that we deepen our cross-border ties with our friends and neighbors. (For more on USMCA’s Arizona impact, check out the terrific joint paper produced by the Chamber, the Arizona Chamber Foundation, and the Arizona-Mexico Commission.)

I expect USMCA to pass by a wide margin and with solid bipartisan support. The vote from Arizona’s delegation, however, should be unanimous, as was the case with the original NAFTA vote way back in 1993.

Glenn Hamer

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