Bloomberg, December 10, 2019
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s administration plans to sign off on adjustments to a free-trade deal with Mexico and Canada on Tuesday, according to two officials, easing the path for a vote in the House of Representatives as soon as next week.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and presidential adviser Jared Kushner will travel to Mexico City on Tuesday to finalize the addendum with the changes, according to the two officials familiar with the plan. Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is also heading to the Mexican capital.
The move comes after Trump secured approval from Richard Trumka, head of U.S. labor federation AFL-CIO, for the changes to the agreement, according to three administration officials. The compromise deal was hammered by Lighthizer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Mexican government, the officials said.
Pelosi said Monday she won’t consider the deal final until Congress writes the bill to implement the trade agreement. She later said the negotiators have made “great progress.”
“The urgency of replacing Nafta is very important,” Pelosi said at a Wall Street Journal event on Monday night. She said she’s not worried about giving Trump a political win, and when it comes to support from her House Democrats, “you don’t have to have unanimity you just have to have consensus.“
The revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement is one of Trump’s top priorities, and its passage would help the White House make the case that he’s pursuing policy achievements on behalf of the country even while lawmakers debate removing him from office.
At the same time, a deal would show that Democrats can legislate while also investigating the president’s administration.
“I’m hearing a lot of strides have been made over the last 24 hours with unions and with others,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “I’m hearing very good things. I’m hearing from unions and others that it’s looking good, and I hope they put it up to a vote.”
Pelosi spent Monday reviewing changes to the agreement that Lighthizer and his Mexican counterpart Jesus Seade put on paper over the past week.
Lighthizer and Seade exchanged proposals on labor inspection rules and tougher steel provisions and finished a compromise package late Friday that they submitted to Pelosi, the people said. A demand from the U.S. regarding steel and aluminum, which people briefed on the talks said came from the United Steelworkers union, threatened to stall the negotiations last week.
Trumka also spoke with Trump on Monday before presenting the negotiated changes to the labor federation’s executive committee. The AFL-CIO’s approval could make the deal easier to get through the Democratic-led House. The AFL-CIO did not respond to a request for comment.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said earlier Monday that he expected a decision from the U.S. on the agreement very soon.
“Now is the time to vote on it,” Lopez Obrador said Monday. “I am optimistic we can reach a deal.”
Negotiators will meet in Mexico City at 12 p.m. local time to discuss recent advances, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter Monday night.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke with Trump Monday, according to Trudeau’s office.
Pelosi last month cautioned that even with a deal, there might not be enough time to vote on the agreement this year, reminding her members that “in a world of instant gratification,” legislating takes time. The deal’s backers are pushing for a House vote by next week before the U.S. Congress recesses for the holidays.
There are still a number of procedural hurdles before the agreement can come to the floor for a vote, including committee hearings and review of the implementing bill in the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees. Those steps could be waived to save time, though, and people familiar with the talks said lawmakers are likely to skip some of them.
Democrats from rural, swing districts are especially eager to get a deal done. Farmers have faced devastating economic losses this year because of the trade war with China, although the president has blamed some of that on the delay in getting the USMCA approved.
The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent government panel, in an April analysis said USMCA would boost the U.S. economy by 0.35% and lead to 176,000 new jobs in the sixth year after implementation, a small addition to the 132 million people employed full-time in the U.S.
Leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. signed the agreement more than a year ago and the White House and Democrats have spent months locked in tense negotiations over four key areas: environment, labor commitments, drug-patent protections and enforcement mechanisms. In recent weeks, the discussions have focused on the deal’s labor enforcement.
One of the main sticking points was a Democratic proposal to enforce labor rights by allowing products from factories accused of violations to be inspected and blocked at the U.S. border. California Representative Jimmy Gomez, a member of House Democratic negotiating team, said last week that Pelosi and Lighthizer have offered Mexico a compromise on labor enforcement that “respects Mexico’s sovereignty.”
Pelosi also said on Monday that she wanted negotiators to remove from the trade deal the liability protections for internet platforms that they enjoy in the U.S. under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. She signaled she had failed to get the change in the deal since she brought it up late in the talks.
Republicans and the business community increased pressure on Pelosi as they grew concerned that time was running out for a vote in 2019, believing that would be more difficult in an election year. Pelosi said she wouldn’t rule out a vote in 2020, adding that her preference would be to get it done sooner.
Trump and his advisers have touted USMCA as the best agreement ever negotiated for unions and Democrats, particularly the deal’s labor provisions and stricter auto-content rules that they say would bolster U.S. manufacturing.
Trumka urged Democrats in a November meeting not to rush into an agreement without strong enforcement procedures and said they should hold out for more concessions. Pelosi told Bloomberg News last month that she has been in close contact with labor unions throughout the negotiations because they “have shared values.”