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Trump gets win as House Democrats agree to new North American trade deal

Updated December 10, 2019 - 6:53 pm

WASHINGTON — House Democrats and President Donald Trump announced an agreement to ratify a new North American trade pact within an hour of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s unveiling of two articles of impeachment against Trump.

The Tuesday morning announcement was a win for Trump, who promised to renegotiate or terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement when he campaigned for office in 2016. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently referred to NAFTA as “the worst trade deal ever.”

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham hailed the outcome as “the biggest and best trade agreement in the history of the world.”

Trump himself said the revamped trade pact will “be great” for the United States.

“It will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA. Good for everybody — Farmers, Manufacturers, Energy, Unions — tremendous support. Importantly, we will finally end our Country’s worst Trade Deal, NAFTA!,” the president said in a tweet.

But it also gave cover to moderate Democrats pinched by impeachment, had the blessing of the AFL-CIO and showed Pelosi could work with the president even as House Democrats were preparing to formally accuse Trump of abusing the powers of his office.

Pelosi said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was better than the 25-year-old NAFTA pact. But she added that changes negotiated by Democrats made the new trade pact “infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration” last year.

Trump pushed for deal

Trump announced in the Rose Garden in October that he had reached a trade deal with Mexico and Canada that would give U.S. dairy farms access to Canadian markets and required at least 40 percent of auto parts be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour.

The new agreement also includes intellectual property provisions important to U.S. industry and environmental protections.

In November 2018, Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto signed a protocol for the trade deal when the three leaders were in Buenos Aires for a Group of 20 meeting. But it couldn’t go into effect without ratification by the three countries’ legislatures.

Mexico ratified the pact in June. In November, Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Canada’s goal “remains to move forward with ratification in tandem with the United States, to the extent possible.”

Trump has scolded Pelosi for rushing impeachment but dragging negotiations on a trade deal that is expected to create some 180,000 American job according to the International Trade Commission. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Pelosi of dawdling with “lukewarm assurances that her caucus was hoping to be ‘on a path to yes.’”

The House is expected to approve the trade deal before the end of its session Dec. 20. McConnell told reporters he does not anticipate a vote until after the Senate impeachment trial.

Tough negotiations

But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal talked of trips he made to negotiate with officials in Mexico and Canada and described “intense, argumentative, angry negotiations” with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

“I think we set a world record for hanging up on each other, me and the trade rep,” Neal said.

The White House even gave Democrats credit for improving the deal, as Grisham noted that “Lighthizer worked with Congress to strengthen enforcement mechanisms, particularly for labor reforms in Mexico.”

Lighthizer praised the joint work of the Trump administration, Democrats, business and labor leaders to reach an agreement, calling it “nothing short of a miracle that we have all come together.”

Both sides called the measure a template for future trade agreements.

According to the U.S. trade representative’s office, the free-market mechanisms in the measure would boost Nevada exports to Canada by $1.2 billion annually and to Mexico by $589 million annually.

Tuesday afternoon, Lighthizer attended a signing ceremony in Mexico City with trade officials from Mexico and Canada.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the agreement for creating “best-in-class rules to foster growth in the digital economy.” In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “For the first time, there truly will be enforceable labor standards — including a process that allows the inspections of factories and facilities that are not living up to their obligations.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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