The U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement easily cleared the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, teeing up a vote of the full House on Thursday.
Approval in the committee was bipartisan, but Democrats and Republicans jousted for much of the day over who should take credit for the final version of the pact. GOP lawmakers heaped praise on President Donald Trump for demanding that NAFTA be renegotiated, while Democrats stressed that it was only changes demanded by themselves that made the pact effective.
USMCA was always a win for the U.S. agriculture sector. It would open up new market share in Canada for U.S. dairy and poultry, while setting up stronger sanitary and phytosanitary trade standards and keep in place virtually tariff free trade between the three countries, but many Democrats vowed early on that they would not support it unless the pact helped stop U.S. companies from relocating factories in Mexico.
“The Trump administration’s initial agreement fell short, but House Democrats fought hard for greater accountability in the final draft,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Calif. “We demanded an enforceable agreement to strengthen protections for our workers and the environment. This new version will do just that, ensuring that our neighbors to the north and south live up to their commitments as trading partners.”
Ranking Republican Kevin Brady of Texas said, "President Trump and Ambassador Lighthizer have fought hard and delivered on their promise for a pro-growth and modern trade pact. And because of their leadership, we now have a trade deal that will deliver historic wins for our economy.”
House Democrats have spent months negotiating changes until just a week ago House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she was satisfied with new measures that aim to ensure Mexico implements sweeping labor reforms that would allow for unions nationwide and eventually push up wages. USMCA would also set up an international labor panel and allow for the U.S. to install officials in Mexico to monitor conditions there.
A common concern among Democrats is that dozens of complaints about poor labor conditions in Mexico have been filed since NAFTA was implemented, but they were easily dismissed without a hearing.
Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse or Agri-Pulse West by clicking here.
“In the past 25 years we’ve seen the shortcoming of the original agreement, much of which comes down to a lack of enforcement, in my view,” said Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass. “House Democrats fixed that issue. The improvements to the USMCA that we negotiated finally make the agreement enforceable by preventing a country from being able to block the formation of a dispute settlement panel.”
While Republicans like Brady applauded Neal and the strong enforcement measures in USMCA, GOP members also complained that Democrats have been too preoccupied with impeachment.
"It has been over a year since President Trump and our North American neighbors signed the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” Brady said. “It has been over six months since Mexico ratified the initial agreement and passed groundbreaking labor reform. And due to Democrats’ misguided obsession with impeachment, moving forward on this pro-worker and pro-growth trade agreement has been neglected.”
But most of the U.S. ag sector is just relieved that USMCA is heading for House approval this year and Senate approval early next year.
“The USMCA is vital for U.S. beef producers and good for the American economy,” the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said in a statement Tuesday. “The USMCA updates NAFTA to reflect our modern economy, while preserving duty-free, unrestricted access for U.S. beef exports to Canada and Mexico - worth roughly $1.8 billion a year. Approving USMCA sends the message to the rest of the world that we are open for business.”