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US-Mexico-Canada Agreement takes effect: ‘New NAFTA’

PLATTSBURGH — The North Country Chamber of Commerce says upstate New Yorkers can join in the celebration this Canada Day as July 1 was the official kick-off day of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

While North Country shops, food stops and other summer attractions typically welcome thousands of Canadians during the national holiday, the coronavirus pandemic has gotten in the way this year, with the shared border still closed to any non-essential travelers.

Chamber President/CEO Garry Douglas said, nonetheless, the latest trade agreement between the two nations would be “bringing us even closer together.”

“As we miss the presence of our Canadian friends this week, and miss the personal ability to enjoy going north,” Douglas said in a statement, “we nevertheless have cause to embrace the implementation of USMCA for its direct benefits to the North Country economy and our future, and as a timely reminder of how incredibly important our bi-national relationship is on all levels.”

The new NAFTA

The USMCA is a renegotiated version of the former North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

Issues surrounding the 20-plus-year-old agreement dated back to the summer of 2018, when President Donald Trump implemented upped tariffs on some imports, but not exempting America’s longtime allies Canada and Mexico.

The two countries had later retaliated with new tariffs of their own.

Renegotiations had started between the tri-nation leaders that meant to rework the dated trade agreement into the 21st century.

The talks led to the USMCA, which was adopted by the House of Representatives in late 2019 and passed by the U.S. Senate in January 2020.

Cross-border partnership

As previously reported, some New York officials, like Senate Minority Leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer, thought the updated agreement did little to hold the three countries accountable against the threat of climate change and felt the oil and gas industry received handouts, such as the lifting of tariffs on tar sands.

Some praised other aspects of the arrangement, like its continuation of zero-tariff treatment on goods exchanged between the three countries and its hoped impacts on the U.S. agribusiness industry, like making the nation’s dairy farmers more competitive in Canada and expanding poultry producers’ access to the poultry and egg markets there, as well.

“The terms of USMCA bring added benefits to both the U.S. and Canada, and some simpler procedures for cross border shipping,” Douglas added in his statement. “But most importantly, after a tough period of negotiations which at times caused concern that the outcome might not be positive, the extraordinary value of the U.S.-Canada economic partnership came though, was recognized and was preserved.

“Like the Hippocratic Oath, step one in our bi-national relationship was to do no harm. The added benefits in such areas as automotive manufacturing, IT and the digital economy, and in dairy are then definitely to the good and are welcome.”

Victory

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said the USMCA’s final implementation was a significant victory for the region and the United States.

“I proudly was an outspoken supporter of this agreement from the very beginning, all the way to watching the president sign USMCA into law this past January at the White House,” she continued.

“I worked in a bipartisan fashion in order to ensure that our North Country farmers, small businesses and manufacturers have increased access to important markets.

“I will continue to advocate for results like the USMCA, which will play a vital role in helping to restart our North Country economy as we face the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild together.”

Local officials react

Plattsburgh city Mayor Colin Read said no other region understood the importance of the nation’s relationship with Canada more than the North Country.

“I am grateful that the tough, and at times, adversarial approach to negotiations with our nation’s largest trading partner did not derail those who were motivated to preserve this relationship,” Read told The Press-Republican.

“I am confident that our region will fare well with this new agreement.”

Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman said the region had a vested interest in the USMCA and its success.

“Like the many manufacturing and transportation companies located within our town,” he added. “Further, our culture and economy has international influence due to the strong relationship with our Canadian neighbors.

“I look forward to a future when we return to a sense of normalcy between our countries beyond this pandemic,” Cashman continued. “The USMCA agreement is a new chapter, but we have long harnessed and celebrated our bi-national relationship.”

Clinton County Legislature Chair Mark Henry (R-Area 3, Chazy) said the USMCA was good economic news for the North Country.

“It’s going to expand our markets, it’s good for our local economy, it’s good for the nation and it’s very good for our Canadian neighbors.”

He noted that the border has remained open to commercial traffic since March 21, when restrictions effectively closed it to “nonessential” travel.

“Now we’re hopeful that we can move on to getting the border open for tourism.”

Positive for farmers

New York Farm Bureau Senior Associate Director of Public Policy Lauren Williams said the trade agreement going into effect was a positive for New York farmers.

“At a critical time for farmers who are struggling to recover from COVID-19 losses and a down agricultural economy, USMCA will continue key trade opportunities.”

Williams said that nearly half of the state’s agricultural exports go to Mexico and Canada, “providing vital market opportunities that will remain open thanks to USMCA.

“The certainty that this agreement provides to farmers, plus the potential for expected growth for our dairy farms, are reasons for a positive outlook on USMCA. New York Farm Bureau will continue to monitor the agreement and ensures it meets the needs of New York producers.”

Taking full effect

Though OK’d earlier this year, the new trade agreement took full effect starting Wednesday.

“The fact that the Canadian Parliament approved USMCA in its final actions before its own COVID-19 shutdown, and that the U.S., Canada and Mexico were determined to finalize all of the many implementing steps in time for July 1, is an enormous testament to the high levels of recognition regarding the enormous importance of our economic partnership,” Douglas said.

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