Vice President Mike Pence toured a St. Paul steel mill Thursday, rallying a crowd of 200 steelworkers and imploring Congress to pass the revised trade pact with Mexico and Canada.
Pence said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) would be the largest trade deal in American history. Its passage, coupled with other Trump administration economic and trade policies, would keep the U.S. economy growing, he said.
“American manufacturing has come roaring back. American steel has come roaring back,” Pence said to an enthusiastic crowd of steelworkers at Gerdau Ameristeel. “We need Congress to pass the USMCA and we need Congress to pass the USMCA this year.”
In response, Democrats hosted a competing event Thursday morning at the State Capitol criticizing Pence and the Trump administration as having “done real harm to the health and livelihoods” of Minnesotans, especially farmers.
Pence has embarked on a national tour this spring to rally support for the trade deal, with earlier stops in Michigan and Indiana. President Donald Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Canada signed USMCA in November at the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires. But the revised trade pact still needs congressional approval to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Clinton-era trade deal struck in 1994.
The new pact would address technological advances not envisioned when NAFTA was drafted, Pence said. The deal will benefit American workers, he said.
“We are going to level the playing field, and the American workers are going to win like never before,” Pence said.
Pence said Trump’s economic and trade policies have benefited American workers, particularly blue-collar workers.
“This president signed the biggest tax cut and biggest tax reform in American history,” Pence said. “Wages are rising at the fastest pace in more than a decade.”
Earlier in the day, Pence visited R&J Johnson Farms in Glyndon, near Fargo-Moorhead, where he visited with farmers.
The new trade agreement “would likely have a positive impact on all broad industry sectors within the U.S. economy,” with manufacturing experiencing the largest percentage gains in output, exports, wages and employment, according to an analysis by the U.S. International Trade Commission.
But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, called the new trade deal “at best a minor update to NAFTA,” according to the Washington Post.
Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy had harsh words for USMCA, calling it “nothing more than a rebranded corporate handout that still hurts working people.”
At the Capitol, DFL Chairman Ken Martin — flanked by a farmer, a home health care worker, Minneapolis DFL Sen. Scott Dibble and Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund — also took aim at Trump’s policies.
“To be blunt, Vice President Pence is here in Minnesota today to put a Band-Aid over the massive wounds his administration has inflicted on Minnesotans across our state,” Martin said.
Tim Velde, a fourth-generation soybean and corn farmer from Hanley Falls in western Minnesota, said the administration’s tariffs have upended the farming industry in Minnesota. He said he watched soybean prices plummet 20% from last year. He said stress among farmers is at a “breaking point” and that foreign markets for their corn and soybeans that took decades to develop have eroded under Trump and Pence.
“With the stroke of a pen, or maybe I should say a few tweets, our foreign markets were gone,” Velde said.
A revamped trade deal with Mexico and Canada is part of the Trump administration’s larger agenda to change the U.S. trade posture around the globe.
Trump took to Twitter last weekend and threatened steeper tariffs against China. Supporters of the existing tariffs, including the Alliance for American Manufacturing, say nearly 13,000 factory jobs have been created or saved and investments are now being made in American steel and aluminum plants, according to the Washington Post.
But one Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Peterson Institute for International Economics, has calculated that every steel factory job saved or created costs American consumers and businesses more than $900,000 annually.
An Associated Press analysis also found that the Trump administration has granted more than 370 companies tariff exemptions on 4 million tons of imported steel.
Pence’s Minnesota visit follows a campaign stop Trump made here in April. The president stopped by a Burnsville trucking company, where he talked taxes and said he was optimistic he could win Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes in the 2020 election.
Staff Writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.