Commentary: State’s winemakers toast opportunity in trade pact

Congress’ ratification of the USMCA would help winemakers in the state and nation boost their exports.

By Josh McDonald

For The Herald

From Washington’s Walla Walla Valley to New York’s Finger Lakes, American vintners are toasting a new trade deal that’ll make it easier to export their wines.

Congress is expected to vote soon on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which all three nations finalized last November. America’s winemakers are rooting for a quick, smooth ratification process. They have a lot to gain from the USMCA.

USMCA would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994. NAFTA has helped the U.S. wine industry. Before the agreement, Canada and Mexico collectively imported less than $60 million of American wine each year. Today, our neighbors are among the top ten importers of U.S. wines worldwide.

USMCA builds on NAFTA’s success while removing some lingering trade barriers.

For instance, British Columbia currently bans grocery stores from stocking American wine. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has made it clear that this policy is “unfair and cannot be tolerated any longer.”

USMCA would require British Columbia to end this discriminatory ban. If Congress ratifies the deal, Vancouver, B.C., residents will finally be able to enjoy Washington state and other American wines. Lifting the ban would increase revenues for U.S. wineries, enabling them to create more jobs here at home.

USMCA contains an entire section dedicated to streamlining North American alcohol trade. Several provisions in the pact’s “alcohol annex” would increase export opportunities for U.S. wineries.

Most importantly, USMCA prohibits the three nations from creating “disguised barriers to trade” on any alcohol products. Furthermore, each country would be required to promptly consider new applications for alcohol imports and exports filed by either of its North American partners. Together, these provisions should ward off any future alcohol-related trade disputes.

By loosening restrictions on alcohol products, USMCA would be a boon for the American wine industry.

Considering how much the industry contributes to the U.S. economy, that’s good news for everyone. America’s wine industry supports close to 2 million jobs and generates nearly $220 billion in economic activity every year. That work pays well — average wages in the wine industry are 40 percent above the nation’s median income.

A successful wine trade is especially crucial for Washington state, as it’s the nation’s second largest wine producer. In 2013, our state’s wine industry had an economic impact of nearly $5 billion and supported 26,000 jobs.

Washington boasts 55,000 acres of vineyards. Each year, about 1 million tourists flock to our state to visit one of our 970 wineries and sample their wines. All these tours and tastings add up; in 2014, wine tourists spent nearly $200 million in our state.

The wine industry will only become more productive if Congress ratifies USMCA. It deserves support from Washington’s congressional representatives in the House and Senate.

Josh McDonald is the executive director of the Washington Wine Institute.

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