House Democrats and the Trump administration have reached an agreement to resolve some of the remaining obstacles to passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal stressed Friday that he expects a vote to ratify the deal this year.

“The discussions are all heading in the right direction,” Neal told reporters after an hourlong meeting between a select group of House Democrats and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The House is set to recess for the next two weeks, but work will not stop during the break, said Neal, who confirmed that he handed over the latest version of Democratic proposals for alterations to USMCA to Lighthizer.

Lighthizer, Neal said, responded “favorably” to the Democrats’ latest counter proposal, but noted that the USTR will need some time to digest it and get back to House staffers.

“I think it’s fair to say we’ve reached some agreement on a couple of substantial issues and … we hope we will see after two weeks … the chance to really see the goal line,” Neal said. “We intend to intensify the conversation once we get back. The staffs have been directed to narrow the differences."

Optimism for a quick USMCA ratification was building even before the Friday meeting.

“Let me just say … we’re moving ahead on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “Again, we’re hoping to be on a continued path to yes.”

But there are still hurdles remaining, and the primary schism between House Democrats and the White House remains over demands for a stronger enforcement mechanism to make sure that Mexico follows through with labor reform promises.

Mexico’s legislature has already passed a labor reform bill, but that’s not good enough for some House Democrats.

“I think it’s fair to say that labor is the biggest sticking point,” Neal said Friday, echoing previous statements.

One labor-related issue out of the control of the U.S. executive and legislative branches is the funding for Mexican labor reform and could be even trickier for House Democrats.

“We still have some of the same concerns,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif. “One of them … is the Mexican budget, when it comes to how they’re going to implement all of their reforms. Mexico needs to put more money in its budget for their labor reforms to build some confidence amongst the Democratic members.”

While the talks are going well, there is still plenty of work to do, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

“This has never been viewed as a slam dunk,” she said.

But Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the top GOP member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he’s encouraged by Neal’s optimism.

“This is really important to America to get this done and I think Speaker Pelosi sees that and has the right folks at the table … to get it done with Lighthizer,” Conaway told Agri-Pulse.

Lighthizer, meanwhile, is stressing his willingness to be receptive to Democratic demands.

“The Democrats have asked for specific and sensible things that they want assurances on,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We should modify this legislation to accommodate their needs. This should be a bipartisan bill. It should be something where there are wins for the President and there are wins for the Speaker and for the Democrats.”

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