Just as Mexican, U.S. and Canadian negotiators in Mexico City were ironing out last-minute modifications to the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) Tuesday, Dec. 10, and signing a modified protocol that would allow for a trinational board of experts to oversee labor conditions (one of the major stumbling blocks for U.S. Democrats), up in Washington, the U.S. House majority party announced that it reached an agreement with the Donald Trump administration over changes to a new trade deal.
The compromise agreement resolved Mexican concerns about U.S. inspectors operating in Mexico and cleared the way for the pact’s fast-track approval in Congress, perhaps even before the end of the year.
Here in Mexico, Canadian Vice Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexican USMCA negotiator Jesús Seade Kuri signed the middle-ground accord at the National Palace, setting the stage for U.S. House of Representatives Democrats to make their own announcement after months of intense and sometimes bitter negotiations with the Republicans and Trump.
“This is a day we’ve all been working to and working for on the path to ‘Yes’,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference in Washington.
“There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA. But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration,” Pelosi said of the revisions to the USMCA, which would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
While the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico signed the proposed USMCA more than a year ago, House Democrats has asked Trump officials to resolve their concerns about enforcement tools for labor and environmental standards, as well as drug provisions in the new trilateral trade deal.
“Make no mistake, we demanded a trade deal that benefits workers and fought every single day to negotiate that deal; and now we have secured an agreement that working people can proudly support,” Richard Trumka, president of AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in the United States, said in a statement backing the newly revised USMCA.
“For the first time, there truly will be enforceable labor standards — including a process that allows for the inspections of factories and facilities that are not living up to their obligations,” Trumka said.
U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer said that the revised USMCA would become the model for future U.S. trade agreements.
“After working with Republicans, Democrats and many other stakeholders for the past two years we have created a deal that will benefit U.S. workers, farmers and ranchers for years to come. This will be the model for American trade deals going forward,” he said.
The modified trade deal came after more than 2,200 farmers across the United States urged Congress to swiftly pass the USMCA amid greater trade uncertainty.
“Each day without action on the USMCA is another day of uncertainty for American farmers and our rural communities,” the farmers wrote in a letter to congressional leaders released by advocacy group Farmers for Free Trade last week.
“We have suffered from retaliatory tariffs, lost market shares and watched while America’s competitors are seen as more reliable trading partners,” the farmers said, calling ratifying the USMCA a top priority for the nation’s agriculture community.
The timing of the announcement of the USMCA deal was extraordinary, as House Democrats earlier on Tuesday unveiled two articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The Democratic-held House is expected to vote to ratify the USMCA next week, while the Republican-led Senate is likely to vote on the trade deal in January, according to U.S. political analysts.