Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable on school choice in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Trump, Dems in tentative deal on North American trade pact

December 09, 2019 - 8:51 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats have reached a tentative agreement with labor leaders and the White House over a rewrite of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal that has been a top priority for President Donald Trump.

“I’m hearing very good things, including from unions and others that it’s looking good. I hope they put it up to a vote, and if they put it up to a vote, it’s going to pass," Trump said Monday. “I’m hearing a lot of strides have been made over the last 24 hours, with unions and others."

“We’re close. We’re not quite finished yet. We’re within range,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday night. She briefed lawmakers on the negotiations earlier in the evening and said more meetings would follow Tuesday.

“We’re at a moment of truth," Pelosi said.

The tentative accord was revealed by a Democratic aide not authorized to discuss the talks and granted anonymity because the agreement is not official.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., credited Pelosi for building consensus among Democrats for the looming agreement, which could be announced as early as Tuesday.

Details still need to be finalized and the U.S. Trade Representative will need to submit the implementing legislation to Congress. No vote has been scheduled.

The trade agreement is one item of many of the congressional to-do list, including a government-wide funding package and an annual defense policy measure that has been broadened to include a new 12-week parental leave benefit for federal employees.

“We're trying to move everything along. We have a lot to do before we leave,” Pelosi said as she left the Capitol Monday. “And appropriations is the central thing."

The new, long-sought trade agreement with Mexico and Canada would give both Trump and his top adversary, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a major accomplishment despite the turmoil of his likely impeachment.

The new trade pact would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated most tariffs and other trade barriers involving the United States, Mexico and Canada. Critics, including Trump, labor unions and many Democratic lawmakers, branded NAFTA a job killer for America because it encouraged factories to move south of the border, capitalize on low-wage Mexican workers and ship products back to the U.S. duty free.

Weeks of back-and-forth, closely monitored by Democratic labor allies such as the AFL-CIO, have brought the two sides together. Pelosi is a longtime free trade advocate and supported the original NAFTA in 1994. Trump has accused Pelosi of being incapable of passing the agreement because she is too wrapped up in impeachment.

Democrats from swing districts have agitated for finishing the accord, in part to demonstrate some accomplishments for their majority.

By ratifying the agreement, Congress could lift uncertainty over the future of U.S. commerce with its No. 2 (Canada) and No. 3 (Mexico) trading partners last year and perhaps give the U.S. economy a modest boost. U.S. farmers are especially eager to make sure their exports to Canada and Mexico continue uninterrupted.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke on the phone with Trump on Monday about the progress being made. Trudeau’s office said they will stay in touch “through the final stages of the negotiations.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last year negotiated the replacement agreement with Canada and Mexico. But the new USMCA accord required congressional approval and input from top Democrats like Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who have been engaged in lengthy, detailed negotiations over enforcement provisions and other technical details.

Republicans leaders and lawmakers have agitated for months for the accord but Pelosi has painstakingly worked to bring labor on board. Democrats see the pact as significantly better than NAFTA and an endorsement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka could be the key to winning significant Democratic support.

The pact contains provisions designed to nudge manufacturing back to the United States. For example, it requires that 40% to 45% of cars eventually be made in countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour — that is, in the United States and Canada and not in Mexico.

The trade pact picked up some momentum after Mexico in April passed a labor-law overhaul required by USMCA. The reforms are meant to make it easier for Mexican workers to form independent unions and bargain for better pay and working conditions, narrowing the gap with the United States.

Mexico ratified USMCA in June and has budgeted more money later this year to provide the resources needed for enforcing the agreement.

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