Senate gives overwhelming approval for US-Canada-Mexico trade pact

Business | 17 Jan 2020 5:25 pm

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a new North American trade agreement Thursday that rewrites the rules of trade with Canada and Mexico and gives President Donald Trump a major policy win before senators turn their full attention to his impeachment trial.

The vote was 89-10. The measure goes to Trump for his signature. It would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, which tore down most trade barriers and triggered a surge in trade. But Trump and other critics blamed that pact for encouraging U.S. companies to move their manufacturing plants south of the border to take advantage of low-wage Mexican laborers.

Passage of the trade bill, which has come to be called USMCA, came one day after Trump signed a new trade agreement with China, easing trade tensions between the economic powers.

“Quite a week of substantive accomplishments for the nation, for the president and for our international trade,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,  shortly before the vote.

The final vote occurred just moments before Congress opened an impeachment trial, with House Democrats reading the formal charges from the well of the Senate. With the trial and an election year, Congress is not expected to pass many major bills. The trade bill gives lawmakers from both parties the chance to cite progress on an important economic issue before the November vote.

Trump campaigned in 2016 on ripping up trade deals that he said added to the nation’s trade deficit and cost the country manufacturing jobs. He promised he would rewrite NAFTA if elected, a pact he described as “the worst trade deal in history.” He can now go to swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and tell voters he followed through on that pledge.

But in the Oval Office, Trump fretted that the impeachment inquiry was overshadowing his trade deals when it came to top stories of the day.

“Today, we just had passed the USMCA. It’s going to take the place of NAFTA, which is a terrible deal, and the USMCA will probably be second to this witch hunt hoax,” Trump said.

Mexico has already approved the agreement. Canada is expected to do so in coming months, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government long insisting it would wait for U.S. approval before proceeding.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey, was a rare voice in speaking against the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “It will mean higher prices for American consumers, who will have to pay more money for a car and therefore will have less money available for any of the other things they would like to consume,” Toomey said. “It will probably lead to an increase or acceleration in the shift to automation.”-AP

Photo:  Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland, left, Mexico's top trade negotiator Jesus Seade, center, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, sign an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, at the national palace in Mexico City, Tuesday, December 10, 2019. Observing from behind are Mexico's Treasury Secretary Arturo Herrera, left, Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, second left, Mexico's Labor Secretary Maria Alcade, third left, and The President of the Mexican Senate Ricardo Monreal.

 

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