North America’s trilateral trade pact will be of “monumental” benefit to small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses, including in Virginia, one of its stauchest advocates said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger described the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement—which won resounding bipartisan approval from the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday—as a major victory for the American economy and for Virginia farmers.

It promises to open new export markets for Virginia cattle, dairy and poultry producers by leveling the playing field between the U.S. and Canada, she told the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

“This trade deal is a win for the American economy,” Spanberger said. “It’s a win for our [agricultural] producers across Virginia. It’s a win for business owners and workers.”

The Democrat, who chairs a House agriculture subcommittee, spent months pressing House colleagues and administration officials to get the deal done.

“I frequently went to members of the working group about it,” she said. “I met with [U.S. Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer. I met with his deputy. I met with the vice president--to continue the drumbeat of saying, ‘This is really important to the American people, and I want us to continue to make progress on this.’ I know those negotiations weren’t easy, but everyone was committed to it.”

Spanberger said she regularly buttonholed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House majority leader, Lighthizer, and Democratic trade negotiators to press them on the USMCA talks.

“I’d say, ‘Hey, let me tell you about my dairy farmers.’ Or ‘Hey, let me tell you about Central Virginia cattle, and how beloved it is in Canada.’ I was pretty consistent about it.”

Spanberger said USMCA will be better “by leaps and bounds” for American workers than the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

By stabilizing U.S. relations with its largest trading partners, Mexico and Canada, USMCA will encourage more American businesses to explore new markets, Spanberger said.

Conversations with Virginians as diverse as a Louisa County cattle farmer, dairy farmers in Nottoway and Amelia, and a Chesterfield paper-industry entrepreneur confirmed for her that Virginians want such opportunities, but were wary of the risks, she said.

For example, Virginia calves are in high demand in Canada, but the Iowa market was safer, Spanberger said. And Canada’s dairy pricing discouraged U.S. milk producers.

That all looks to change with USMCA, she said.

“[The agreement] has been affirming of what Congress can achieve when Congress is focused on the same goal,” Spanberger said. “In this case, the goal was getting to ‘yes.’”

Once the agreement is ratified, it should boost U.S. agricultural exports by $2 billion and add $65 billion in U.S. gross domestic product, said Ben Rowe, the Virginia Farm Bureau’s national affairs coordinator.

cschemmer@starexponent.com

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