Wisconsin’s biggest industries are experiencing tremendous growth. Empowered by tax reform and pro-growth policies at the state and national levels, manufacturers and farmers of all sizes are investing in their communities, in people and in their businesses. But to keep momentum strong throughout our state’s most important industries, lawmakers must continue advancing policies that ensure economic certainty and bolster the country’s business climate.
One issue that is top of mind for Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry is trade, specifically trade throughout North America. Canada and Mexico are two of our state’s largest trading partners, accounting for nearly half of Wisconsin’s total global manufacturing exports, according to a new study by the National Association of Manufacturers. From the food and beverage industry to machinery and chemicals, one out of every four Wisconsin manufacturers relies heavily on North American trade.
Trade with Canada and Mexico is also essential to the state’s farming industry. Of the $3.5 billion in Wisconsin’s agriculture exports, about half of these products — especially dairy — are exported to our North American neighbors, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
And trade with Canada and Mexico is not just good for business. It is critical for many jobs, too. More than 44,300 jobs across Wisconsin are directly tied to North American trade. More often than not, these export-dependent jobs are full-time and higher paying and offer real, career-track opportunities for middle-class workers.
Now, our lawmakers have a real opportunity to improve certainty surrounding trade with Canada and Mexico. By joining Mexico and ratifying the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, Congress would ensure that products made and grown in the U.S., including right here in the Badger State, are enjoyed around the continent. And with more Wisconsinites selling their goods, lawmakers will be supporting job, wage and economic growth across the state.
The first and only time that a bilateral trade deal has been negotiated between our nations occurred in 1994. And while the North American Free Trade Agreement was forward-thinking for its time, a new, modernized deal is long overdue. Leaders from each of our countries have now come to an agreement that will benefit each North American economy.
In addition to preserving free and open trade established by NAFTA, the USMCA would improve our trade standards to reflect the modern economy and incredible technological advances over the past several decades. It would create new e-commerce rules that eliminate barriers of online data sharing, giving businesses using the internet as a global storefront or creating new technologies a proper infrastructure to exchange information.
Even more important, the USMCA would strengthen intellectual property protections and enforcement to safeguard American ideas and encourage innovation — the bedrock of manufacturing and the American economy. These changes and more would level the playing field for American manufacturers, bring trade into the digital age and expand operations into Canada and Mexico for many small and medium-sized businesses.
The path forward for Congress is abundantly clear. Lawmakers must come together to ratify the USMCA, and they must do so promptly. While our economy — driven by manufacturing and agriculture — has seen consistent growth over the past several months, lawmakers must continue to guide our economic path forward. The USMCA is good economic policy, and it would fuel our industry forward for decades to come.
Kurt Bauer is the president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
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