WASHINGTON — US lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday approved a new continental trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, a victory for President Donald Trump even as he faces impeachment.
A law to implement the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority – an unusual occurrence in the current political atmosphere – with a vote tally of 385-41.
The bill now must be approved by the Senate, where the Republican majority leader has said it will have to wait until 2020.
Though the free trade pact was signed in 2018, House Democrats had held up the treaty's ratification for a year, demanding greater assurances that Mexico could be held to its commitments to labor reforms demanded by the treaty.
Last-minute agreements with Mexican authorities allowed a compromise deal amending the treaty.
USMCA replaces the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, changing rules on auto manufacturing, e-commerce, intellectual property protections and dispute settlement for investors, as well as tougher labor provisions that require reforms to Mexico's labor laws.
Both major parties now appear to favour the bill, making it likely to win Senate approval, especially with Trump's support.
However, Pat Toomey, a prominent Republican senator from Pennsylvania, has announced his opposition, claiming USMCA is "anti-trade" and will raise auto prices while lowering exports and employment.
Thousands of American jobs
Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador praised the move, calling it "very good news".
"It is an agreement that benefits the people of Canada, the United States and we, the Mexican people," he said in a video on Twitter, showing him with a laptop streaming the vote in the American legislature.
An analysis by an independent US trade commission in April showed the new trade pact was likely to have a "moderate" positive effect on the US economy – largely by reducing uncertainty about the rules governing trade – but could result in lower auto production and sales.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the agreement should result in billions more in investments in the auto sector and purchases of parts.
"The USMCA is expected to create between 176,000 and 589,000 new American jobs and substantially increase economic growth," Lighthizer said in a statement.
Agriculture and business groups are anxious to see the treaty ratified.
The US Chamber of Commerce said while "no deal is perfect" the new treaty's reforms promised substantial benefits.
"USMCA is a welcome gift this holiday season, leveling the playing field for trade in North America and helping US companies and the 12 million workers they employ compete in our top two export markets."
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said the upper chamber of Congress will first take up the articles of impeachment adopted by the House before voting on the USMCA.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led the talks to modify the USMCA, urged McConnell not to adjourn for the holidays until voting on the trade pact.
She said the changes to the new regional trade pact make it "infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration." AFP