U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he’s committed to working with Democrats on the new North American trade agreement, and predicted that the resulting deal will get broad approval in Congress.
“I am aware of specific areas where members have ideas to strengthen the agreement, and we are having constructive discussions,” Lighthizer said in his prepared opening remarks at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on trade policies Tuesday. “I continue to believe that the USMCA will win broad support in Congress, as it’s designed to do.”
He made no direct mention of China trade talks in his prepared remarks, though he’s likely to get grilled by lawmakers on that issue above all others.
His boss, President Donald Trump, cheered markets earlier Tuesday by saying he spoke with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and they’ll have an “extended meeting” later this month, boosting hopes for a breakthrough in stalled negotiations.
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, which was negotiated over a year and signed by leaders in November, needs approval by legislators to take effect. Trump’s surprise proposal this month to slap tariffs on all Mexican imports over border-security concerns threatened to derail the plan, but it’s now back on track after the president got a migration deal and dropped his threat.
Lighthizer already has been working closely with Democrats, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to resolve concerns about the new accord -- including labour and environmental standards, as well as drug pricing -- before it can come up for a vote. He told senators on Tuesday that he’s also spent “countless” hours consulting business, labour and other groups, and said there’s wide agreement that Congress should pass the deal.
While business leaders and some in the White House are pushing for a vote before Congress goes on vacation in August, Democrats say they don’t want to rush the process.
“Timely passage of implementing legislation for the USMCA will benefit American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses throughout the century,” Lighthizer said in the remarks.
TRUDEAU TO MEET U.S. OFFICIALS
Trade will likely dominate the agenda when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Trump in Washington on Thursday. Canada is proceeding with ratification of the agreement, though time is running out to do so before an election there this fall, with Trudeau trailing in polls.
Trudeau is also set to meet with Pelosi and the U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, in a bid to fast-track passage of a delayed trade deal, two congressional aides told Reuters on Monday.
The Trump administration has been pushing Congress to speed up a vote on the agreement. But the Democratic-led House of Representatives has sought more time to review the deal, with Pelosi pressing for improved enforcement mechanisms for labour and environmental standards.
Republicans, who control the U.S. Senate, have been seeking a vote on the USMCA before the August recess to avoid budget debates and 2020 presidential campaign activity, which is expected to intensify in the autumn.
Pelosi controls the overall House legislative agenda, including trade measures, and many political experts see USMCA as unlikely to come to a vote in that chamber during the summer.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobby seeking quick passage of the accord, sees progress for the deal as feasible in the short term, despite concerns voiced by Democrats.
“We think the objective of securing a vote on USMCA in the House before the August recess is a reasonable goal,” the chamber’s senior vice president for international policy, John Murphy, told reporters in a phone call on Monday. “The gaps are bridgeable.”
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.