Democrats, Trump administration are reportedly closing in on a North American trade deal

Democrats, Trump administration are reportedly closing in on a North American trade deal
By: WNG CNBC Posted On: December 09, 2019 View: 35

Democrats, Trump administration are reportedly closing in on a North American trade deal

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., are seen in the Capitol on Friday, December 6, 2019.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

House Democrats and the Trump administration have drawn close to a deal on replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement after months of deliberations, according to reports.

There is a deal on provisions in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement after discussions about strengthening labor enforcement provisions, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told The Washington Post on Monday. Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday night that House Democrats and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have come close to a deal on revamping the more than two-decade old economic pact among the U.S. and its two neighbors.

Still, the sides have no trade agreement to announce yet, a senior Democratic aide said Monday morning. The Trump administration delivered proposed changes to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office on Saturday, and House leaders are still studying it.

The White House has pushed for USMCA's approval in Congress before the end of the year as President Donald Trump seeks an economic and political win before the 2020 election. Democrats, who have sought tougher enforcement of labor rules to ensure U.S. companies do not move jobs to Mexico, have tried to show they can legislate even as they move forward with an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

It remains to be seen how close the Trump administration is to sending ratifying legislation to Congress. When lawmakers receive the bill, it starts a 90-day window to pass it.

Some sticking points seemed to remain over the weekend.

For instance, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Sunday that the Mexican government would not accept a U.S. demand for American labor inspectors in Mexico as part of the agreement. It is unclear if the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative or House Democrats will insist on including the provision in a deal.

Spokespeople for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, who is leading the Democratic talks with USTR, and USTR did not immediately respond to requests to comment.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Republicans such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley have pushed for Democrats to approve the deal in 2019. Many business groups have also put pressure on Congress to pass USMCA.

Stakeholders worry waiting will complicate the deal's passage, as the Senate could have to hold an impeachment trial in January. The 2020 election will take up more of Washington's attention next year, as well.

Labor groups such as the AFL-CIO had urged Democrats to make the case for tougher labor enforcement to protect American workers. Trumka told the Post that the federation of unions had "done quite well" in securing concessions.

He plans to meet with the AFL-CIO's executive committee later Monday, the newspaper reported. The support of organized labor, a key political constituency for Democrats, was seen as important for the deal moving forward in Congress.

The U.S. exports more goods to Canada and Mexico than any other countries. As House Democratic leaders have pushed for changes to labor measures in the deal, some Democrats representing districts reliant on trade with the U.S. neighbors have urged swift passage.

Mexico has ratified a version of the agreement, while Canada has waited to approve it while it watches developments in the U.S.

Aside from labor rules, a pharmaceutical provision in USMCA has tripped up ratification progress. The agreement as designed now sets up a 10-year exclusivity period for biologic drugs, shielding companies from cheaper generic competitors during the period. Democrats have argued the measure hurts consumers, while business groups contend it protects businesses' intellectual property and research investment.

Pharmaceutical prices could play a major role in 2020 election messaging.

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