Trump’s new NAFTA faces uphill battle in Congress

President Trump’s signing of a new trade pact with Canada and Mexico on Friday set the stage for a major fight next year with Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Democrats mulling presidential runs in 2020, as well as labor and environmental groups, were already gearing up for a showdown with Trump over trade, and the revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will give them an opening for a new line of attack.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Friday called for a major rewrite of the deal signed in Argentina at the Group of 20 summit.

{mosads}“As it stands, this agreement has not earned the support of America’s working families,” he said in a statement. “Without major improvements, this supposed overhaul will prove to be nothing more than a rebranded corporate handout.”

Trump had to submit the text of the agreement to Congress by Friday to set up a slim chance of passing implementation legislation for the deal before January, when Democrats will assume the House majority.

With unified Republican control of Congress slipping away, Trump faces a drawn-out battle on trade issues with Democrats in the next Congress.

It could wind up taking months to push the deal through Congress once Democrats take over the House.

Democratic leaders and allied labor and environmental groups say the deal, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), needs substantial revision.

{mossecondads}If ratified by Congress, it would replace NAFTA, which was implemented in 1994.

Trump said Friday that he is not concerned about the likely pushback from Congress.

“I don’t expect to have much of a problem,” he said during a ceremony with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Trump hailed the pact as a major victory, one that fulfilled a campaign promise to redo NAFTA.

“The terrible NAFTA will soon be gone. The USMCA will be fantastic for all!” Trump tweeted.

If Congress fails to act on the trade accord, NAFTA will remain in place.

Trump could try to gain leverage by threatening to withdraw out of NAFTA unilaterally, but that move would likely send stock markets plunging and roil the U.S. economy.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told reporters that the agreement fails to set up a system to adequately enforce labor and environmental standards, a complaint that labor unions and environmental groups have made as well.

“What isn’t in it yet is enough enforcement reassurances regarding workers, provisions that relate to workers and to the environment,” she said.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) on Friday called the labor and environmental protections in the deal “too weak.”

“I am most interested in ensuring that any final agreement protects our dairy farmers and that there is real enforcement of new and tough labor provisions,” he said.

Schumer added that he is looking forward to working on implementing legislation in the weeks and months ahead, suggesting that his concerns can be addressed through that process.

Democratic leaders are feeling heat from their liberal base to oppose the deal.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a potential contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, panned the trade deal in a live-streamed speech outlining her foreign policy vision.

“As it’s currently written, Trump’s deal won’t stop the serious and ongoing harm NAFTA causes for American workers,” she said. “It won’t stop outsourcing, it won’t raise wages, and it won’t create jobs. It’s NAFTA 2.0.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another high-profile potential contender for the Democratic nomination, vowed Friday to “strongly oppose” it.

“This deal includes some outrageous giveaways to the fossil fuel industry and big pharmaceutical companies that will harm the environment and increase prices for life-saving prescription drugs,” he said in a statement.

Under Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the deal can pass both chambers of Congress with simple majority votes through an expedited process.

But Pelosi, if she becomes Speaker in January, can easily circumvent the fast-track process by passing a rule that stalls the deal.

A group of 12 Senate Republicans urged Trump last month to send the text of the final agreement to Capitol Hill before December to give them a chance to pass it before January.

“Nancy Pelosi does not have a long track record of ratifying Republican free-trade agreements,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), an influential Republican voice on trade matters, said on Wednesday. “We have seen this movie before. The Colombia agreement is a great example. She had it, TPA was in force, and she promptly passed a rule killing TPA. They never took it up. Never. She was the Speaker for years and it got ratified when she was no longer the Speaker.”

Under TPA, Congress has 30 days to review and debate a new trade deal before voting on implementing legislation.

A Senate Republican aide said Friday that the text had not yet been received.

Labor and environmental groups are pressing for the Trump administration to reopen the negotiations, arguing that the implementing legislation can make only marginal changes.

“You would pretty much have to start from scratch for the environmental chapter,” said Ben Beachy, a trade expert and director of the Sierra Club’s A Living Economy program. “It even rolls back the environmental of past trade deals.”

He said that the last four U.S. trade agreements “at least reinforced the standards set of seven multilateral environmental agreements — international agreements to protect everything from wetlands to sea turtles — and Trump’s NAFTA includes that standards and enforcement language for only one of those seven international environmental agreements.”

Environmental groups said Trump’s new trade deal will encourage corporations to move manufacturing and production facilities to Mexico, which has weaker restrictions on carbon emissions and toxic dumping.

And, they say, the new accord’s environmental rules would take precedence over other international environmental agreements and fail to provide a workable enforcement mechanism.

“This deal largely replicates the same failed environmental enforcement mechanisms of past trade agreements,” Beachy said. “Not once has the U.S. used that mechanism in past trade deals to bring a case against a U.S. trade partner for environmental abuses despite widely documented violations.”

Labor unions have leveled similar complaints.

Dan Mauer, a trade policy expert with the Communications Workers of America, said the deal can’t be fixed through implementing legislation alone.

“It’s our view that it can’t be, and they’ll have to go back and change some things,” he said, arguing that negotiations will have to be reopened or Canada and Mexico will have to agree to side deals.

“One that most definitely needs to get fixed, and there’s no way to fix outside of the agreement, is biologics,” he said, referring to biologic drugs, which are therapies derived from living organisms.

The Trump administration delivered a big victory for the pharmaceutical industry by insisting on language in the deal that grants biologic drugs patent protection for 10 years, considerably longer than the seven-year exclusivity period favored by the Obama administration.

“The Obama administration proposed cutting it to seven which would save consumers a lot of money and state governments a lot of money,” Mauer said. “This would foreclose our ability to do that.”

Labor groups also say there’s no viable mechanism to enforce labor provisions in the deal.

Enforcement of those provisions rests with the United States Trade Representative (USTR), which has done little to prosecute labor claims, according to advocates.

“We’ve had theoretically enforceable labor provisions in every free trade agreement for 15 years and we’ve never won a single labor case,” Mauer said. “There’s nothing in here that takes the unilateral power to fail to act out of USTR’s hands.”

Lee Saunders, the president of AFSCME, a union for federal, state and local government employees, told The Hill that the trade deal “falls short of the mark.”

“It fails to adequately address stagnant wages or provide important worker protections,” he said on Friday. “Even worse, it includes new special giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry that would mean even higher prescription drug costs for working families. We will work toward improvements that will lift up working people.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Nancy Pelosi Pat Toomey
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