Trade deal puts ‘American businesses first,’ VP Mike Pence says during California stop

Vice President Mike Pence met with hundreds from the agriculture industry at a Kings County farm Wednesday afternoon and hailed the pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement as an example of “free, fair and reciprocal trade deals that put American businesses first.”

“It is a win for American farmers and a win for American business and workers,” he added of the trade deal negotiated by the Trump administration.

Pence cited International Trade Commission data that he said supports the White House belief that the deal known as USMCA will add 176,000 jobs in the U.S. Plus, he added, “According to conservative estimates, American exports to Canada will increase by $19 billion, and exports to Mexico are going to increase by $14 billion.”

“ITC also tells us USMCA will increase American food and agricultural exports by $2.2 billion all by itself.” Pence said. That includes $134 million in additional U.S. dairy exports

Under the shade of a pole barn usually used to shelter alfalfa hay, a crowd of about 800 gathered to hear Pence. Among them was former congressman David Valadao, a Hanford dairyman. The venue at the farm of Doug and Julie Freitas on Highway 41 north of Lemoore was surrounded by a protective wall of hay bales.

“It’s absolutely essential that we get the USMCA passed by Congress,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “We’re simply not going to allow outdated trade deals to hurt American farmers or workers anymore.”

Pence said he came to the Valley because “you really need a trade deal with our neighbors to the north and the south that really puts American agriculture first, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

It was the last Valley stop on a whirlwind visit by Pence, who arrived around 11:30 a.m. at Lemoore Naval Air Station on Air Force Two and, after a short meet-and-greet with base personnel, was whisked off to a private luncheon fundraiser at Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant on Highway 198 at Interstate 5.

From Lemoore, he left for a stop later Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc.

Appeal to farmers

At the farm event Pence introduced Jim Wilson, operator of J&D Wilson Dairy in Riverdale, an 18-year veteran of the dairy business. The vice president said that as a member of the California Dairies co-op, “his biggest customer happens to be our neighbors to the south.”

“Once the USMCA goes into effect, it’s all but certain that their dairy business is going to flourish like never before,” Pence said.

He asserted that the benefits for agriculture will go well beyond dairies. “We will have trade rules that support innovation by addressing biotechnology. Poultry producers are going to have new access to Canada for chicken and eggs, and expanded access for turkeys. … It will update rules of origin for processed fruits to ensure preferences benefit U.S producers.”

Joan Ruch of Lemoore, whose father was a dairy farmer and whose brother now farms almonds, said the vice president convinced her of the importance of the trade agreement.

“I didn’t really know it was about the agreement, and I learned a lot about it,” she said. “I will be making some phone calls because I think this needs to get passed.”

Pence pitched that the agreement has a lot for Californians.

“This state already exports more than $48 billion in goods and services to Canada and Mexico alone. Under USMCA, we know that number is going to grow,” Pence said. “It’s going to free up even more jobs and more opportunities in the city and on the farm, all across the San Joaquin Valley.”

Valadao’s expectations

Valadao was among the VIPs in attendance at the event organized by America First Policies.

“The idea today is to get the public involved and make sure they let their representatives know that they want a vote on it and get this deal done,” said Valadao, a Republican who lost his re-election bid in November.

Valadao said the new agreement is important to Valley agriculture and the dairy industry. “It protects existing trade with both countries, but there are improvements for dairy,” he said. “This is the No. 1 dairy district in the state, the No. 1 dairy district in the nation, and it helps us on that front particularly on the Canadian side.”

“It’s not a huge percentage, but In my world, the dairy world, prices are about a half percent or one percent over production,” Valadao added. “If there’s an improvement of a few percentage points on the export market, it’s going to be beneficial for us.”

Darrin Monteiro, director of member and government relations for California Dairies Incorporate, reinforced Valadao’s point.

“Mexico is the largest trade partner to the United States in dairy, and this continues our relationship that is very important, Monteiro said. “With regard to Canada, it makes some changes to their pricing and their actions of dumping milk powder on the global market and it takes come corrective actions within that agreement.”

Ag undersecretary joins panel discussion

Pence’s arrival was preceded by a panel discussion led by America First Policies senior policy advisor Curtis Ellis; speakers include Ted McKinney, undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Kraig Baron, president of Western Saw Manufacturers in Ventura County; Steve Cozzetto, president of Century Rubber in Bakersfield; Jeff Johnson, vice president of Harris Ranch Beef Company’s export division in Selma; and Joshua Freitas, whose family’s farm hosted Wednesday’s event.

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Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.