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November 27, 2019 2:15 PM, EST

White House in Pre-Thanksgiving Push to Get USMCA to Finish Line

U.S. President Donald Trump by Susan Walsh/Associated Press

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The White House is pushing to wrap final negotiations with Democrats on President Donald Trump’s top legislative priority, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, by meeting with the Mexican deputy foreign minister Nov. 27.

The administration and House Democrats have been locked in tense negotiations for months to secure a potential vote before the end of the year on USMCA and this week managed to narrow their differences.

Mexican deputy foreign minister Jesus Seade

Seade

Mexican deputy foreign minister Jesus Seade met with Trump’s trade chief, Robert Lighthizer, in Washington Nov. 27 to discuss the fixes that Lighthizer offered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi verbally earlier this week. Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, needs Mexico’s signoff before Democrats will support USMCA.

“We are on the way to a resolution,” Seade told reporters after the meeting in Washington. “I have to check some documents I’ve received, check them carefully and maybe discuss adjustments. So we still have some way to go, but we are going well.”

Canada’s acting ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman, and the trade negotiator who led talks for the country, Steve Verheul, are in Washington keeping tabs on talks, a Canadian official said. Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, is likely to head to Washington later Nov. 27 but has not yet finalized her plans, the official said.

Within Range

Pelosi signaled Nov. 25 that Democrats and the White House are on the cusp of a deal on the changes her caucus has been seeking to the agreement, most importantly on labor enforcement. She said in a statement Nov. 25 that a “substantially improved” USMCA was “within range.”

“Now, we need to see our progress in writing from the Trade Representative for final review,” Pelosi said.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer

Lighthizer

Lighthizer is prepared to deliver “paper on the deal” quickly, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News on Nov. 26. “He’ll do whatever he needs to do to give them what they need to get confident about it,” Navarro said.

One Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a deal could be announced at any time, but probably no later than next week if positive talks continue.

Even if a deal is sealed, the House is not expected to vote on it immediately when it returns from recess next week. A House vote is more likely later in December, or even early next year, with the Senate acting in January.

Labor Enforcement

There are a number of procedural hurdles before the agreement can come to the floor for a vote, including committee hearings and review of the implementing bill in the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees. Those steps could be waived to save time, though.

Key to reaching a deal has been neutralizing any opposition from the largest U.S. union confederation, the AFL-CIO.

Richard Trumka

Trumka

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka held a phone call with union affiliates Nov. 26 to discuss the proposed changes to the deal and whether labor should voice public support for USMCA, people familiar with the call said. Trumka told Democrats earlier this month to hold out for more concessions from the administration. The AFL-CIO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump and his advisers tout USMCA as the best agreement ever negotiated for unions and Democrats, particularly the deal’s labor provisions and stricter auto-content rules that they say would boost U.S. manufacturing.

Enforcement of labor issues remains a final sticking point in the talks.

Labor Inspectors

Democrats have pushed for expanding the powers of U.S. customs agents to block the import of goods from Canada and Mexico from factories found to be in violation of USMCA labor standards. The approach is based on the existing Lacey Act whereby products from illegal logging or poaching are blocked at the border.

Mexico has said that it would oppose such an approach, as well as a Democratic proposal to put U.S. labor inspectors in its factories, calling it a violation of sovereignty.

Seade told reporters Nov. 27 that Mexico could be open instead to adjusting the USMCA arbitration panel process to facilitate decisions in labor rights disputes.

“Every single issue that has made me lose my sleep is off the table,” Seade said. “These are constructive things that are normal to have in an ambitious trade agreement.”

Trump has voiced frustration with the stalled deal and said it was unlikely the Congress would ever take it up for a vote.

“Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, AOC and the rest of the Democrats are not getting important legislation done, hence, the Do Nothing Democrats,” Trump said in a tweet Nov. 24. “USMCA, National Defense Authorization Act, Gun Safety, Prescription Drug Prices, & Infrastructure are dead in the water because of the Dems!”

USCMA is forecast to have a marginal impact on the $20 trillion U.S. economy. The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent government panel, in an April analysis said USMCA would boost the U.S. economy by 0.35% and lead to 176,000 new jobs in the sixth year after implementation.

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