WASHINGTON — Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, joined forces Tuesday in the nation’s capitol — making the case for ratification of the USMCA, which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Vilsack, who served eight years as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, is now president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

“I have a simple message for the committee: exports matter to American food and agriculture industry,” Vilsack said. “Thirty percent of all agricultural production and 20% of all agricultural income is directly related to exports.”

Grassley opened the Senate Finance Committee hearing by reading a prepared statement.

“Nobody could consider NAFTA to be better than USMCA,” Grassley said, “and nobody should dismiss the importance of a half-trillion dollar market for U.S. agriculture products.”

Vilsack said the new trade deal would “bring strong benefits” to the rural economy.

“Whatever helps the U.S. food and agriculture industry helps the country,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack urged congress to “swiftly” ratify the deal.

“It will build momentum for progress, hopefully, in other trade discussions, especially in Japan and possibly China,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack mentioned nearly a thousand U.S. food, ag and trade groups recently signed onto a letter to congressional leaders — to make the argument that the USMCA will cultivate “more fair and robust” trading relationships with Canada and Mexico.