WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump hinted on Monday that efforts to push a new continent-wide trade deal through the US Congress were close to success, as senior officials from all sides headed to Mexico for further talks.
Trump's remarks followed a report that US and Mexican trade negotiators have reached a deal making changes to labour enforcement under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) signed last year.
That would remove a principal hurdle to ratification of the agreement, the fate of which had seemed to hang by a thread in recent weeks.
With the window narrowing for action by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives as 2019 draws to a close and an election year approaches, there has been a flurry of last-minute activity on the pact.
Lawmakers also face competing priorities as they press ahead with impeachment proceedings against Trump and legislation to prevent a government shutdown this month.
"I am hearing very good things," the president said on Monday. "I am hearing a lot of strides have been made over the last 48 hours."
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, are expected on Tuesday in Mexico, according to The Washington Post.
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland – the country's lead negotiator – was also headed to Mexico for meetings on the pact, her office said.
Earlier on Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the chances of a deal were looking up.
"We're working hard and hopeful it will get to ratification soon," he said.
Trudeau's office said he had spoken to Trump by phone and the two had vowed to stay "in touch through the final stages of the negotiations."
Citing unnamed sources, Fox Business said negotiators had clinched a deal on oversight of Mexican labor laws and a final deal could emerge shortly that would allow all three countries to ratify the modified treaty.
But how Democrats would ultimately respond was unclear. A senior Democratic aide in Congress said that officials on Capitol Hill were still studying the proposal.
"No agreement to announce yet," the person said on condition of anonymity.
More than a year ago, the US, Mexico and Canada signed an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, changing rules on auto and digital trade, Mexican labor laws, intellectual property and dispute settlement systems for investors.
Mexican lawmakers ratified the deal in June but Democrats in Washington and US labor leaders have raised concerns – looking for stronger guarantees that new Mexican labor laws will be enforced to prevent unfair competition with US workers.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in recent weeks has sent positive signals, saying an agreement was imminent.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last week he would not accept a US proposal for supervisors to oversee the implementation of Mexico's labor reforms under the USMCA. — AFP