House Democrats emerged from negotiations Wednesday with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement with a newfound optimism that an agreement on the pact will soon be within reach.
“We’re making progress on this,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal told reporters after the latest meeting with Lighthizer. “We have really narrowed our differences considerably … There were a couple of bumps in the road last week, but they seem to be, at least for the moment, smoothed out.”
Neal, who leads a group of select lawmakers in a working group tasked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with the Trump administration on USMCA, said he believes “only a few more” negotiating sessions with Lighthizer will be needed to wrap up their work.
Neal was noncommittal when asked if a deal could be reached before Thanksgiving.
As recently as last week, Neal told reporters that he had not closed out any areas of concern the Democrats have about USMCA, but that has changed.
“We have gotten a lot off the table and agreed not to revisit,” he said. Neal explained to reporters early on in talks with Lighthizer that once an issue has been agreed upon, or taken off the table, it would not be revisited.
One of those issues that may have been settled, appears to be a dispute over USMCA provisions that extend the patents for biologic pharmaceuticals in Canada and Mexico. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the working group, came out of the Wednesday meeting on Capitol Hill and told reporters she was “optimistic” the differences are being resolved.
Schakowsky has been adamant from the start that the provisions would increase drug costs and have no place in a trade pact.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., another working group member, also expressed new optimism about the USMCA talks, but warned there are always threats to the progress he said they had made.
“The pace has picked up,” Gomez told reporters after meeting with Lighthizer. “I do feel better about it, but it’s still a very delicate situation … Anything can knock the negotiations off track, so we need to make sure that we block out as much noise as possible and focus on the four issue areas (of USMCA).”
Meanwhile, Lighthizer has turned over some counterproposals that House Democrats have been waiting to see in writing, Gomez said. More is expected, but for now staff officials for the lawmakers are pouring over the new USTR proposals.
A lot of work remains, Neal said, but also stressed that he “actually has a good feeling about this” and added that what has been a lengthy process could have a swift conclusion.
“I know you can wrap things up all of a sudden,” he said.
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