WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Days after the announcement of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue addressed members of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) at its Fall Forum in Washington.

Perdue applauded U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the revised trade deal.

“I want to congratulate President Trump,” Perdue said. “He understood the unfairness of the trade agreement (NAFTA), and he called it out early on in his administration.”

Signed in 1994, NAFTA fundamentally reshaped North American economic relations, driving an unprecedented integration between Canada and the United States’ developed economies and Mexico, a developing country.

NAFTA has been a significant factor behind the success of U.S. agriculture. Since NAFTA was implemented 24 years ago, U.S. farmers have quadrupled exports to Canada and Mexico and the two nations rank second and third, after China, as markets for U.S. farm goods.

Perdue recognized the new agreement and its anticipated impact on the agriculture industry.

“The fact that we are having a long-standing trade relationship restored and renewed — is a real tribute to our negotiators in all three countries,” Perdue said. “The great news of the new USMCA deal is important for our economy but certainly the agriculture sector as well… We secured greater access to these vital markets and we’ll work to maintain and improve the highly productive integrated agriculture relationships that we have as nations.

“If you look at some of the trade deals before — they’ve been very good for people shipping to the U.S., but not as good for us if we want to enter their markets. We see tariff and non-tariff barriers from the countries that claim to be our allies across the world and it’s not necessarily in our best interest.”

Perdue explained the benefits of the trade deal succinctly: “We’re locking up two of our Top 3 markets for the future.”

At the time of the trade announcement on Oct. 1, Julie Anna Potts, new president and chief executive officer of NAMI, said, “Under NAFTA, U.S. meat and poultry exports to Mexico and Canada have thrived as import duties were removed and non-scientific barriers to trade have been significantly reduced. The North American market for the meat and poultry industry is nearly completely integrated and is essential to its long-term viability. The agreement submitted today to Congress safeguards the core tenets of NAFTA that have strengthened the U.S. meat sector and overall economy.”

NAMI pointed out that since 1994, beef exports from the United States to Canada and Mexico grew from $656 million to over $1.7 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, pork export values jumped to more than $2.3 billion from $322 million. U.S. beef and pork exports to Canada and Mexico accounted for 30% and 40% respectively of all U.S. exports in the two categories.

“We urge Congress to ratify expeditiously the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, and we look forward to working with both administration officials and members of Congress to ensure its implementation,” NAMI said.

The agreement was sent to Congress on Oct. 1 for ratification. Early reporting indicates that a vote on the deal will not happen until after the November midterms.

In additional comments to the N.A.M.I. membership, Perdue expressed concerns about the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) on the other side of the globe.

“African Swine Fever is a very serious disease and we’re committed to keeping it out of the United States,” he said. “We adhere very closely to the World Organization for Animal Health’s regionalization guidelines for imports of animals and products.

“We are going to double down the guard to keep ASF out of the U.S. — and we will continue to be ever-vigilant of that concern. We’re increasing our biosecurity protocols… We’re working now to make sure we have adequate federal and state laboratory capacity to handle any of the testing needs that may occur.

“We are preparing for the worst and praying for the best. We have a risk mitigation plan in place in case this disease does slip through.”