By Mona Salama
The House passed President Trump’s amended North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Thursday by overwhelming bipartisan support in a bitterly divided Congress.
The bill to enact Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA passed 385-41. 38 Democrats, two Republicans and Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) voting against the deal. Majority of the 38 Democrats that voted no, including the squad — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) are mostly those who consider the liberal members of Congress. The two Republicans that voted no were Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie and Florida Rep. Ted Yoho.
Yoho, in a statement, explained his reason for the ‘no’ vote, stating the new agreement favors Mexican producers over Florida’s produce farmers.
“Our great state of Florida is one of the biggest agriculture partners in the world, and our district benefits tremendously from free trade opportunities with other countries. However, international trade should not come at the expense of American farmers and workers,” Yoho said. “USMCA favors Mexican producers over the hardworking Southeastern farmers. Remedies, after that fact, are too late to address our farmers’ needs now. Without the inclusion of trade remedies in USMCA for Florida’s produce farmers, I cannot, in good conscience, support this agreement.”
Scrapping NAFTA was one of Trump’s biggest campaign promise in 2016 and helped him secure electoral victories in states that voted for Democrats in the last 25 years.
USMCA keeps most of the elements of NAFTA intact, but it requires 75 percent of automobile parts must be made in North America to be duty-free. It also adds a component that 40-45 percent of automobile parts be made by workers who earn at least $16 an hour by 2023. The measures are meant to limit Mexico’s competitive advantage on labor costs while expanding access to Canadian dairy markets for U.S. farmers and install a new regime of rules relating to digital trade.
The USMCA, an agreement Trump called “the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA,” would raise U.S. GDP by $68.2 billion, or 0.35 percent, by the sixth year after it enters into force, according to the independent U.S. International Trade Commission study. It also creates 176,000 U.S. jobs, increasing employment by 0.12 percent nationwide, the ITC found.
President Trump and both leaders from Canada and Mexico signed USMCA a year ago. Mexico ratified the original trade deal in June and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he will bring the modified agreement up for a vote once it passes the U.S. House.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially refused to allow a vote on the deal, arguing that it lacked strong enforcement measures and demanded stricter enforcement measures for labor and environmental laws. After months of stalling, Democrats were able to add a provision to create independent panels to ensure Mexican factories are complying with the agreement, and allow the U.S. to impose tariffs on firms that violate the deal’s labor standards.
The lengthy delay of the vote by Pelosi was seen as purely political.
“The USMCA is a big win for the state of Arizona. Although I am disappointed it took Speaker Pelosi over a year to bring the USMCA to the floor for a vote, I am glad we could finally secure this victory for Arizona and the United States,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona.
Pelosi called USMCA a trade agreement that will serve as a model for future ones and transcended partisan politics while ignoring concerns that this would give President Trump a “victory.”
“I was asked: Aren’t you giving the president a victory to boast about? That would be a collateral benefit if we could come together to support America’s working families,” Pelosi said on the House floor. “And if the president wants to take credit? So be it. If we can come together to support America’s working families and the president wants to take credit, so be it. That won’t stand in the way of our passing this.”
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will take it up after an impeachment trial for President Trump.