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Vice President Pence targets Rep. Peterson on trade deal during visit to Clay County farm

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Vice President Mike Pence calls for Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to push for a vote on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement while visiting a farm Thursday, May 9, in rural Glyndon, Minn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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GLYNDON, Minn. — Vice President Mike Pence, standing with farmers at a sugar beet and crop farm in Clay County, Minn., delivered a simple message, aimed at Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

“We really do believe that if U.S. House Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi puts the USMCA on the floor of the House of Representatives, it’ll pass,” Pence said. “It is a win for American farmers, a win for American workers and American manufacturing and jobs.”

Pence said his visit in Minnesota is a message to his “good friend” Peterson to put pressure on the Democratic-controlled House to put the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to a vote. The trade deal needs approval from Congress in order to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement that the three countries reached in 1994.

He said the lack of certainty is “impacting real-world choices on the farm".

Pence was visiting R&J Farms, which is operated by Ray B. Johnson, his wife, Jo Lyn, and their son, Ryan. The event was staged with three groups of 10 farmers and FFA members for seven minutes, as reporters were confined to a “pen,” and moved from station to station. At the end, Pence stood with the group at his back and made a brief statement, followed by a short news conference.

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Most of the farmers talked about the challenges they face in farming and input costs, as well as low prices in part due to trade disruptions. Peterson was absent from the event.

Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, which organized the farmers from throughout the state, said he notified Peterson of the event as a courtesy, but that Peterson declined because of a hearing on the farm cost-price squeeze.

Peterson sent out a press release, as the event was in progress, saying he was glad Pence was coming to see “firsthand the importance of the sugar industry,” for which Peterson is a champion. Pence opposed sugar policies while serving as congressman in Indiana.

Pence on Thursday told farmers they can still be optimistic, despite brinksmanship between the U.S. and China over trade, and the difficulties in getting congressional ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement.

Mark Harless, a Borup, Minn., farmer who raises dry edible beans, soybeans and corn, said that 60 percent of the black beans that farmers grow have to go to Mexico.

“It’s vitally important that we keep that market open,” Harless told the vice president. He said markets need certainty, and “as long as USMCA isn’t ratified, there is uncertainty.” He said agricultural trade “shouldn’t be a political issue.”

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Vice President Mike Pence holds a tube of soybeans Thursday, May 9, in rural Glyndon, Minn., as he promotes the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The red line indicates the 60 percent of soybeans that are exported. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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He said that “being a farmer, I’m always hopeful” about a positive resolution to the Chinese trade issues.

“We’re prepared to expand on the tariffs that we’ve implemented because things have to change in our relationship with China,” he said, noting they account for half of the U.S. trade deficit.

“We’re hoping that they’re coming to make a deal. That would have an immediate impact on the need for additional support,” Pence said. “Make no mistake about it: We have already had preliminary discussions for additional support for farmers if this impasse with China continues.”

Pence acknowledged the retaliatory tariffs on steel and aluminum. Asked if Peterson has already applied as much pressure as possible, Pence said, “That would be a good question for you to ask him.”

“We’re grateful that Congressman Peterson is supporting USMCA," Pence said, adding, "but I think it’s absolutely essential that Congressman Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, carry the message of agriculture here in Minnesota and across America, to the Democratic leadership in the House."

Pence landed in Fargo on Thursday morning, May 9, to a warm reception before his motorcade left the North Dakota Air National Guard base headed for the farm.

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After Pence visited the farm, he headed to St. Paul for an appearance at Gerdau Ameristeel to tour the mill and speak to employees, White House officials said.

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