Commentary: Farmers, chefs, restaurants agree: Pass the USMCA


Issue Date: September 25, 2019
By Sara Neagu-Reed
Sara Neagu-Reed
Recognizing that the restaurant industry’s success “is driven by the farmers who produce the food we serve,” more than a dozen chefs and restaurants joined food and agricultural groups in urging Congress to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.

Farmers, chefs and restaurants have a strong connection. It's something we see even more so at this time each year in Sacramento, during the annual Farm-to-Fork Festival. Chefs and restaurants recognize California farmers operate domestically and in the global market, and must stay competitive in international trade.

That's why more than a dozen chefs and restaurants joined food and agricultural organizations this week in urging Congress to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. In a letter to the California congressional delegation, the coalition said the USMCA would include improvements that would help California agriculture to trade fairly, which ultimately benefits farmers, restaurants and their customers.

"When agriculture thrives, so do businesses and our communities," the letter said.

It's an important connection. California food and agriculture generates at least $100 billion in economic activity due to its tremendous productivity and diversity—and a lot of that economic activity occurs at restaurants.

Chefs and restaurateurs understand.

"The restaurant industry's success is driven by the farmers who produce the food we serve," they wrote in the letter to Congress. "Restaurants rely on interconnected supply chains to provide meals to millions of customers daily. Disruptions to these supply chains significantly affect the availability and price of products to restaurants in every community."

By strengthening ties with Canada and Mexico and by supporting farmers, the USMCA will help prevent food shortages and higher costs for restaurants.

For California farmers and ranchers, Canada and Mexico represent crucial markets. California exported some $6.6 billion in agricultural products to Canada and Mexico last year, and those exports supported more than 56,000 jobs in the state. Canada is the single largest importer of California agricultural goods—only the 28-nation European Union imports more—and Mexico is the state's No. 5 export market.

Top California agricultural exports to USMCA partners include wine, processed tomatoes, almonds and strawberries. The agreement would expand the Canadian dairy market, allowing more export opportunities for California dairy farmers without unfair tariffs. It would also allow California poultry producers new access for chicken and egg exports.

Ratification of the USMCA would strengthen procedures to protect human, animal and plant health—known as sanitary and phytosanitary measures—while improving the flow of trade. The agreement for the first time specifically addresses biotechnology—including new technologies such as gene editing—to support innovation and reduce trade-distorting policies. The USMCA would also enhance safeguards for commonly used food names.

Restaurants and chefs recognize issues affecting agricultural trade have a ripple effect felt throughout the food business.

Here's how California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson puts it: "Restaurants and farmers need each other, and we all need the USMCA to assure the continued strength of the food chain. By helping California farmers and agricultural businesses, and by enhancing North American trade in food and farm products, the USMCA will keep agricultural products affordable for all of us who eat."

California farmers, chefs and restaurants believe Congress should ratify the USMCA as soon as possible. If you haven't already done so, contact your member of Congress and urge her or him to support the USMCA. It's time for Congress to act.

(Sara Neagu-Reed is associate director of federal policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at sneagureed@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.