Farmers need USMCA to preserve and build upon a successful trading relationship

America’s corn farmers are bracing for another year of uncertainty. Farmers in the South have already started planting, while others are anxiously awaiting a spring thaw to get into the field. They’re making decisions that will create a ripple effect for their families, communities and the U.S. economy amid depressed farm incomes and market instability.

Reaffirming U.S. trading relationships with our North American partners is an important step toward stabilizing a struggling farm economy and the No. 1 legislative priority for corn farmers this year.

This is why corn farmers from across the country are taking to Capitol Hill this week. They’re laying the groundwork for a concerted effort by U.S. agriculture producers to ratify the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

USMCA will solidify a $3.2 billion export market for corn farmers and provide some certainty as farmers begin the hard work of planting and harvesting their crop. Ratifying USMCA will also instill confidence in other nations with whom we want to enter into future trade agreements. Opening new markets will ensure U.S. agriculture remains competitive for generations to come.

The existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been an unequivocal success for American agriculture. Over the past 20 years, U.S. agricultural exports to Canada have tripled and quintupled to Mexico. Exports of feed grains in all forms, which includes corn, sorghum, and barley, increased an astounding 329 percent since NAFTA went into effect in 1994.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral MORE followed through on his campaign promise to renegotiate the existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), announcing the renamed USMCA with leaders from Mexico and Canada this past November. Now, farmers are taking an active role to get it across the finish line.

Cementing these markets and reaffirming our trading relationships with our North American partners is why leaders of commodity organizations representing corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum stood together before more than 9,000 attendees at last month’s Commodity Classic and pledged to work together to see USMCA ratified this year.

For corn farmers, USMCA preserves and builds upon our successful trading relationship with Mexico and Canada. USMCA maintains zero tariffs on U.S. corn and corn products while also setting a high standard for future trade agreements in areas critical to U.S. agriculture such as biotechnology and the creation of a rapid-response mechanism to address trade challenges.

But it’s not just farmers who benefit from North American trade. In 2014, 17.3 million American jobs were related to agriculture, more than 9 percent of total U.S. employment. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that NAFTA supports 14 million U.S. jobs.

We can’t afford to lose this market.

The president has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if Congress does not approve USMCA. We take this threat seriously and recognize that without USMCA, American agriculture and rural communities would be devastated. A Purdue University and Farm Foundation study found that this action would amount to a $9.4 billion loss in agricultural exports annually.

Passing USMCA in this charged political environment will be a heavy lift. For agriculture, tariffs are a potential roadblock to passage. Removing the section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs imposed on Mexico and Canada would be one less issue of concern when it comes time for a vote.

This week’s effort is just the beginning. Corn farmers, along with those representing other commodities, will continue to visit Washington this year to impress upon lawmakers to act. With another political campaign season already underway, we know that time is limited. It is on the administration and Congress to take the necessary actions to quickly ratify USMCA.

America’s farmers, rural communities and the U.S. economy need USMCA ratified this year.

Lynn Chrisp is President of National Corn Growers Association. Founded in 1957, the National Corn Growers Association represents nearly 40,000 dues-paying corn farmers nationwide and the interests of more than 300,000 growers who contribute through corn checkoff programs in their states.