Pelosi Says Agreement on New North American Trade Deal ‘Imminent’

(The Washington Post) -
Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA). (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images/File)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that agreement on a new North American trade deal is “imminent” and she would like to pass it by year’s end.

Pelosi’s comments at a news conference represented her most optimistic assessment to date on negotiations to replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with a new deal that would improve environmental and labor standards. House Democrats have been negotiating for months with the Trump administration to reach agreement, but it’s proven elusive so far.

“It all comes down to enforcement,” Pelosi said. “I do believe that if we can get this to the place it needs to be, which is imminent, that this can be a template for future trade agreements, a good template. ”

“I’d like to see us get it done this year, that would be my goal,” she said. “I don’t imagine that it would take much more in the Senate to pass … I would hope that they would move quickly with this. “Others involved in the talks, however, cautioned that significant work remained before a deal could be announced between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and the House Democratic working group led by Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.

Organized labor has remained wary of the emerging agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, arguing that Mexico has not showed it is capable of implementing the needed reforms to its own labor standards. These reforms by Mexico are necessary to ensure more American jobs don’t move to that country, Democrats and labor leaders say.

In a letter to lawmakers last week, the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, representing more than 4.5 million workers, cautioned against a rush to pass the new trade deal, writing that, “NAFTA 2.0 as currently written does not meet the needs of working people for a new trade model that ends the race to the bottom.”

House Democrats say backing from labor is critical to passage of the deal. “We need it,” Neal said Thursday of support from organized labor, adding that he thought labor’s support was within reach.

“There’s a series of issues that are still a bit elusive but we’re trying very hard,” Neal said.

“I think we would all agree that right now the proposal we have in front of us is substantially better than NAFTA that’s 25 years old,” Neal added. “Whether or not it’s enough, we’ll have to figure that out.” Pelosi spoke optimistically about getting labor’s support. “I think it will be a value that is shared by our friends in labor as well as the Democrats in the Congress, so we’re in a good place,” she said.

President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have increasingly complained that Pelosi is dragging her feet on bringing USMCA – as the new deal is known – up for a vote. They say she is focused on impeaching Trump to the exclusion of everything else, a charge Pelosi laughs off.

Still, for Pelosi as well as some Democrats in swing districts, passage of the trade deal would be an important accomplishment, if they can argue they’ve delivered needed improvements for working Americans. To the consternation of some Democrats it would also deliver a major win heading into 2020 to Trump, who campaigned on rewriting NAFTA and called it one of the worst deals ever.

The new deal was signed a year ago by Trump and the leaders of Canada and Mexico, but must be ratified by the legislatures on all three countries.

Supporters say the deal helps American workers by including new requirements for the auto industry to build in the U.S., raising wages in Mexico, and instituting new standards for the environment.