House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday announced her desire for a vote to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that the U.S. ag sector is counting on for continued trade in North America that is mostly tariff-free.
“We want to pass this bill,” Pelosi said after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with House Democrats this week.
But Pelosi’s support for a vote on the Trump administration’s top legislative goal this year doesn’t mean it’ll happen before the August recess, as many GOP lawmakers have been advocating.
The top House Democrat is still demanding that USMCA be altered to cut a provision to require Mexico and Canada to extend patents for biologic pharmaceuticals as well as include enforcement provisions for new labor and environmental standards.
Pelosi called those issues potential “deal-breakers.”
And that would mean reopening the North American trade pact and getting Mexico and Canada to agree to the changes, something Republicans have said they hoped to avoid in order to get a speedy ratification of the pact.
“Now it’s time for the U.S. Congress to pass USMCA as soon as possible to unlock the benefits of this agreement for U.S. workers and our local businesses,” Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said last week after Mexico’s legislature ratified USMCA. “The longer Congress delays, the more our country loses out on new jobs, more customers for Made-in-America goods, and a stronger economy.”
Mexico has passed legislation to implement the labor reforms called for in USMCA, which require the country to redo roughly 700,000 labor contracts that were written under business-formed unions that often gave workers no say in wages or benefits. The problem is that many Democrats still don’t trust Mexico follow through with it. They also blame the current North American Free Trade Agreement for creating the conditions that allowed U.S. companies to send factories south of the border to take advantage of extremely low wages.
“You can have every kind of agreement in the world, but if you don’t have enforcement, you’re just having a conversation,” Pelosi said Thursday. “We do not want to pass this agreement just slightly different from NAFTA with a little sugar on top and said ‘see we did something different.’”
She also echoed recent comments from other Democrats that when USMCA is reopened, it would be done “surgically” to prevent negotiators from trying to make widespread changes.
But any delay is too much for many who want to see the pact implemented as soon as possible.
“Since NAFTA’s implementation in 1994, our agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico have more than quadrupled,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said last week. “Corn exports increased sevenfold.”
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