JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Vice President Mike Pence told a group of Jacksonville business owners Monday that a renegotiated trade agreement with Mexico and Canada could benefit local companies.
Pence delivered remarks at a "USMCA: A Better Deal for American Workers" program at the Schultz Center. He's hoping to build support for the deal that is awaiting approval by Congress. The visit is one of a series of America First Policies meetings Pence has held around the country this spring.
"Make so mistake about it: The USMCA is a win for Florida and a win for America," Pence told the supporting crowd. "We are not going to allow an outdated trade deal to hurt American manufacturers or American farmers any longer."
Pence joked that Congress does two things right: nothing or overreact, then went on to ask people attending the session to call their elected representatives and urge them to support the deal.
Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and Jacksonville U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, two of those member members of Congress, spoke prior to Pence's arrival. Scott's staff said he is not yet sure he will vote for the deal, but Rutherford is fully behind it.
"Last week, the Trump administration has done in just the past week has been to ease some trade restrictions on the two countries," Jacksonville said. "I think it will be significant. There are some agricultural issues that we still need to work out. Some season produce issues – but I think that will be settled before it passes."
One of the local companies that Pence highlighted is Bold City Heating and Air. It's a fairly new business with only 15 employees so far, but he commended the work it is doing to hire and train people.
"With this booming economy, this company has already invested $200,000 in career development for its employees, and they are just getting started," Pence said.
Company owner Mirza Pilakovic told News4Jax he has been able to expand his business and training as a result of last year's corporate tax cuts.
“I’m excited to be part of this presentation,” Pilakovic said.
The crowd was enthusiastic, but some said they want to know specifics about how this will impact Northeast Florida.
"Will this pact help the port strengthen over time?" asked Ta’Nisha Parker after Pence's remarks. "That’s particularly what I care about -- seeing the port of Nassau County strengthen."
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat on the Flordia Cabinet, released a statement countering Pence's remarks in Jacksonville.
“In a state that depends on agriculture, we can’t afford a trade agreement that allows Mexico to continue dumping artificially low-priced seasonal crops into our country,” Fried wrote. “Mexico’s unfair trade practices and lower safety standards and labor costs are putting Florida’s seasonal crop growers at risk.”