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New Mexico farmers need new trade deal

Wade Cavitt inspects pecan trees for healthy growth. New Mexico is the second-largest producer of pecans in the United States. (Courtesy of Tami Cavitt)

For farmers and pecan growers in New Mexico, the most important action Congress can take this year will be passing the new NAFTA – now called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA). For my state, trade with our top export markets in North America is critical to our economy, as well as my community and our family farm.

For six years now, my wife and I have grown pecans in Lovington. We have 1,100 pecan trees that turn out 60,000 pounds of pecans in a good year. We also help the local economy by operating our own shelling plant where small family operations can bring their crops for processing.

In 2017, growers in New Mexico turned out 92 million pounds of pecans. Pecans growing on 43,000 acres of land had a value of $220 million. Our state is the second-largest producer of pecans in the United States at a time when the global consumer demand for pecans is only increasing. That record year of 92 million pounds was an impressive increase of 28 percent from 2016.

The discussion about USMCA comes at a time when New Mexico farmers and growers are already extremely worried about new trade tariffs and retaliation for those tariffs. This year, we have watched the per pound price of pecans drop from as much as $3 to $1.50. Meanwhile, our expenses for things like fertilizer, fuel, labor and electricity keep going up. All of these tariffs are punishing hard-working farmers and families who create jobs and drive economic growth to start with. All of this reinforces the fact we need a major trade victory, such as the passage of USMCA.

USMCA will help our country by continuing our long-term contracts with our No. 1 and No. 2 trading partners. It will also help to eliminate the ongoing retaliatory tariffs that are damaging our market access and relationships with Canada and Mexico. However, we are concerned that if we pass USMCA and the steel and aluminum tariffs stay in place, we wipe out many of the benefits we hope to get from the agreement. We desperately need bipartisan members of Congress to come together and demand an end to the tariffs on Canada and Mexico in exchange for advancing the USMCA discussion.

The stakes are almost higher than New Mexico farmers can comprehend for another reason. If we don’t pass the USMCA, we could face an even worse case – U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA. The loss of NAFTA could mean we would revert back to a 22 percent duty on U.S. product exports. That would mean a loss of $844 million in New Mexico exports going to Mexico, and $56 million in exports to Canada. Without NAFTA, we could also see as many as 21,000 jobs lost in our state.

The time to act is now. We need our New Mexico congressional delegation to stand with us on these critical issues. North American trade is about trust and long-term sustainable relationships. Passage of the USMCA will help restore confidence in our farm economy, and it will also provide needed stability for farmers like me to plan for the future. Please call your member of Congress today and ask them to stand with us on USMCA. It’s critical to New Mexico farm families.

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