WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced agreement on a modified North American trade pact, handing President Donald Trump a major Capitol Hill win on the same day that Democrats announced their impeachment charges against him.
The California Democrat said the revamped U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is a significant improvement over the original North American Free Trade Agreement, crediting Democratic negotiators for winning stronger provisions on enforcing the agreement.
“There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” Pelosi said in announcing the agreement, saying the pact is “infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.”
Trump said the revamped trade pact will “be great” for the United States.
“It will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA. Good for everybody — Farmers, Manufacturers, Energy, Unions — tremendous support. Importantly, we will finally end our Country’s worst Trade Deal, NAFTA!,” the president said in a tweet.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said Mexico and Canada are Iowa’s top two trading partners and are “critical” to the state’s economy.
“Today’s announcement represents a positive step forward for Iowa’s entire economy,” Reynolds said in a statement. “USMCA is a strong, balanced, and modern trade agreement that will create opportunities for Iowa families, farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses by expanding markets for our world-class exports.”
Rep. Cindy Axne, who represents Iowa’s 3rd District, which includes Council Bluffs and much of southwest Iowa, and Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley all praised the agreement while taking shots across the political aisle.
“I have long been an advocate for getting this agreement done so our farmers and manufacturers can have certainty in our two largest markets. Farmers have had a tough few years, with a harmful trade war, devastating weather and a (Renewable Fuel Standard) being undermined by the (Environmental Protection Agency),” Axne said in a statement. “This agreement would provide certainty for farmers and producers by ending the threat of back and forth retaliatory tariffs that this administration has pursued. I am thankful that the House Working Group and U.S. Trade Representative (Bob) Lighthizer worked in good faith and negotiated a better deal for all Americans and did so before the year end.”
Ernst said, “Iowans in every corner of our state have been waiting far too long for Congress to act on the USMCA.
“And now, after months of delay, House Democrats are finally coming on board,” Ernst said through her office. “President Trump and our Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer negotiated this modernized agreement with our nation’s farmers and workers in mind — knowing the USMCA will provide an economic boon and certainty to folks back home. I’ll be reviewing the updated language, and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to put politics aside and give the hardworking men and women across Iowa and this great nation a huge win.”
Grassley called the agreement “long overdue.”
“I’m glad a deal has finally been reached. I look forward to reviewing the specific language soon and expect committee members will be briefed in person ... this week,” Grassley said. “Passage of USMCA will be a significant win for farmers, workers and all Americans. Renegotiating NAFTA was a central campaign promise made by President Trump. He kept his word and Americans will enjoy the many benefits of this upgraded trade deal as a result. The nation’s economy under President Trump has achieved historic levels of employment and wages are finally growing after years of stagnation. This trade deal will help create even more jobs and make us stronger as a country. I applaud President Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer for their hard work and commitment.”
In Mexico City, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Monday night that there would be a meeting of the three countries’ negotiating teams Tuesday “to announce the advances achieved” on the trade agreement. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is slated to appear.
The announcement came on the same morning that Democrats outlined impeachment charges against Trump. The pact is Trump’s top Capitol Hill priority, along with funding for his long-sought border fence.
Vice President Mike Pence, a foot soldier in the administration’s campaign to sell the accord, said Pelosi had “acquiesced” in slating the pact for a vote this year.
“The USMCA will create even more jobs for the hardworking families who are the backbone of our economy — the farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and small business owners,” Pence said in a statement.
Pelosi is the key congressional force behind the accord, which updates the 25-year-old NAFTA accord that many Democrats — especially from manufacturing areas hit hard by trade-related job losses — have long lambasted.
Pelosi has negotiated with the administration extensively to win stronger enforcement provisions. Her efforts have appeared to build support among Democrats.
“There are those who I read about in one place or another that say, ‘why would you give President Trump a victory?’” Pelosi said Monday night at a Wall Street Journal event for corporate executives. “Well, why wouldn’t we? This is the right thing to do for our trade situation, for our workers.”
NAFTA eliminated most tariffs and other trade barriers involving the United States, Mexico and Canada. Critics, including Trump, labor unions and many Democratic lawmakers, branded the pact a job killer for the United States because it encouraged factories to move south of the border, capitalize on low-wage Mexican workers and ship products back to the U.S. duty free.
Weeks of back-and-forth, closely monitored by Democratic labor allies such as the AFL-CIO, have brought the two sides together. Pelosi is a longtime free trade advocate and supported the original NAFTA in 1994. Trump has accused Pelosi of being incapable of passing the agreement because she is too wrapped up in impeachment.
The original NAFTA badly divided Democrats but the new pact is more protectionist and labor-friendly, and Pelosi is confident it won’t divide the party, though some liberal activists took to social media to carp at the agreement.
“There is no denying that the trade rules in America will now be fairer because of our hard work and perseverance. Working people have created a new standard for future trade negotiations,”said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “President Trump may have opened this deal. But working people closed it.”
Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also chimed in to support the long-delayed agreement.
“We are optimistic this development will open the door to final approval of USMCA on a bipartisan basis by the end of the year, which will especially benefit American farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses,” Thomas Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
The pact contains provisions designed to nudge manufacturing back to the United States. For example, it requires that 40% to 45% of cars eventually be made in countries that pay auto workers at least $16 an hour — that is, in the United States and Canada and not in Mexico.