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NM delegation: We need a better USMCA

SANTA FE, N.M. — Vice President Mike Pence encouraged southeastern New Mexico residents to urge members of the state’s congressional delegation to support passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement during a visit to Artesia on Wednesday.

But members of the state’s delegation said they would support the USMCA only if improvements were made.

“We need to implement improvements to the USMCA that ensure border states and communities continue to thrive, while creating strong, enforceable protections for workers and the public. Otherwise, this whole process will have caused chaos and disruption for no benefit,” U.S. Sen Tom Udall said in a statement to the Journal. Udall and two of his Democratic colleagues, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, were singled out by the vice president during his speech.

“New Mexico shares both a border and a strong relationship with Mexico – our most important trading partner and a crucial export market – that creates thousands of jobs for New Mexicans,” Udall said. “Our prosperity is inextricably linked to this partnership, especially in our growing border economy, which is a bright spot for our state.”

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., agreed with the vice president that the North American Free Trade Agreement needed to be replaced but said the current draft of the USMCA “has significant problems that must be fixed.”

“It lacks enforcement mechanisms for labor and environmental provisions, and could permanently raise prescription drug prices by giving a 10-year exclusive monopoly to drug companies,” she said. “We should not approve a binding trade agreement that could harm American workers once again, or permanently keep lifesaving drugs out of reach for patients. I am committed to continuing to work with the U.S. Trade Representative to improve and complete a deal.”

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., has consistently said strong labor and environmental protections must be included in the deal’s framework for him to consider the USMCA, his spokeswoman Lauren French said. “President Trump is refusing to add those protections for the American worker and is instead charging forward with a tariff war that is weakening the economy and harming our families,” she said.

Those in attendance during Pence’s visit touted the USMCA as a much-improved update to NAFTA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. While the oil and gas industry benefitted from NAFTA, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn said “a lot of harm has been done to other sectors, especially the automobile industry.”

“I’m certain industries will benefit from modernizing with the USMCA,” said Flynn, who said his father worked in the automobile industry with General Motors.

Automobiles must have 75% of their components manufactured in Mexico, the U.S., or Canada to qualify for zero tariffs (up from 62.5% under NAFTA) under new requirements, and 40% to 45% of automobile parts must be made by workers who earn at least $16 an hour by 2023.

There is potential for conflict in the USMCA negotiations on Capitol Hill over environmental issues. Pence voiced concerns that the “radical climate change agenda” threatened the momentum of the oil and gas industry, which was a main theme of his visit. He said the agenda wanted “to turn America’s energy clock backwards.”

“We have to say ‘yes’ to America’s energy independence and ‘no’ to the Green New Deal,” the vice president said.

Haaland is a supporter of the Green New Deal. Udall has been one of the Senate’s most vocal supporters of initiatives to battle the effects of climate change.

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