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June 11, 2019 4:30 PM, EDT

Democrats Signal Hope for Passing New North America Trade Accord

Democrats House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a previous press conference. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

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House Democrats are expressing optimism as they begin what could be the final stage of negotiations to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, paving the way to vote on President Donald Trump’s top legislative priority.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on June 11 is expected to formally name lawmakers to the working groups that will work with the administration on the labor, environment and pharmaceutical provisions that Democrats are seeking to strengthen. Pelosi also has emphasized the need for strong enforcement mechanisms in the accord that will overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat leading talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, said June 10 he hopes a deal can be finalized within 30 days. The Trump administration has signaled plans to send a bill implementing the USMCA to Congress by the end of the month to prod lawmakers to vote on it before the August recess.

Neal

These signs of progress come after Trump withdrew his threat to impose tariffs on Mexican imports over unrelated immigration concerns. Senate Republicans applauded that decision, and Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley met June 10 with Pelosi, Neal and Ways and Means Republican Kevin Brady to discuss how to move forward on the USMCA.

“We just wanted to point out despite the chaotic nature of the tariff situation, we still wanted to stitch this up,” Neal said.

Grassley requested that meeting, and he told House Democrats he wants to be helpful in completing the USMCA, according to a Democratic aide. Pelosi used the meeting to explain the provisions that need to be reinforced to get more House Democrats to support the deal, the aide said.

“We want to be on a path to yes,” Pelosi said at a Peterson Foundation event June 11, stressing the need for strong enforcement. If all parties can’t be held to the agreement, she said, “you’re just having NAFTA with sprinkles on top.”

Grassley described the June 10 meeting with Pelosi as “very successful.”

Grassley

Grassley

“I think they’re putting a good-faith effort to work out differences,” Grassley said of House Democrats. “There’s a process in place to do it. But those differences will have to be worked out before we move it.”

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing June 18 with Lighthizer to discuss the USMCA, Grassley later said in a statement.

For weeks Republicans have said that the USMCA already has enough votes to pass, counting on a combination of pro-trade lawmakers from both parties. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said June 11 “everybody knows it will pass the House,” but suggested that Pelosi is holding out to get not only a majority of the full House of Representatives, but also a majority of her caucus.

Trump also urged Congress to “do its job” and pass the trade deal that farmers are counting on to secure the export markets they count on for their livelihood.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said ratifying the USMCA could be a more important boost to the U.S. economy than reaching a trade deal with China. Congressional approval of Trump’s trade deal, which modernizes but doesn’t fundamentally change the decades-old NAFTA, could add half a percentage point to economic growth, Kudlow said in a June 11 interview on CNBC.