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December 4, 2019 5:30 PM, EST

Democrats See USMCA Deal Near, Urge Mexico to Accept Compromise

Mexico’s top trade negotiator, Jesus SeadeMexico’s top trade negotiator, Jesus Seade by David Kawai/Bloomberg News

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House Democrats said Dec. 4 that a deal on the stalled U.S.-Mexico-Canada free-trade agreement is within reach and urged Mexico to accept a compromise on labor-rights enforcement.

“We are on the 2½-yard line," Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal said about efforts to wrap up negotiations on the replacement for NAFTA and clear the way for approval in Congress.

Mexico’s top trade negotiator, Jesus Seade, was meeting Dec. 4 with his Trump administration counterpart, Robert Lighthizer, in Washington in an attempt to resolve final issues. Neal said rank-and-file Democrats would be briefed on the details of the talks later in the day.

California Rep. Jimmy Gomez,

Gomez

California Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a member of the U.S. House Democrats negotiating team, said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Lighthizer have offered Mexico a compromise on labor enforcement that “respects Mexico’s sovereignty.”

“If they want a deal, it is ripe now,” Gomez said. “It’s a good deal. That’s my message to the Mexicans, and that’s my message to Democrats.”

Seade said in an opinion essay published Dec. 4 that Mexico would oppose any provision requiring U.S. inspectors in Mexican factories. He told reporters that Mexico is open to a fast-track arbitration process to address labor-rights violations. Gomez said the compromise does not involve “rogue” U.S. inspections, but that there is an element of monitoring involved to ensure compliance.

According to people briefed on the deal in Mexico, the labor proposal aims to make dispute settlement more effective. Disputes could take into account enforcement of Mexico’s overhaul to improve labor conditions, but wouldn’t allow investigators to show up at a factory unannounced, the “lone ranger” type of inspections that Seade has rejected.

On another sticking point, the White House and Democrats have floated to Mexico removing a provision guaranteeing 10 years of data protection for biologic drugs, according to people briefed on the deal. That would be a victory for both Democrats and Mexico, which had opposed including the protection in the USMCA before it was signed one year ago.

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