Democrats Close to Agreement With White House on New NAFTA

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers are nearing an agreement to bring the revised North American free trade deal to a vote after securing additional labor, enforcement and other provisions and winning the support of top labor leaders.

An agreement between congressional Democrats and the White House on the final terms of the revised trade deal would lift the last remaining hurdle standing in the way of enacting President Trump’s trade pact. It would cap off more than two years of negotiations between officials in the United States, Canada and Mexico over a critical trade pact that governs commerce around North America.

Congressional aides and trade advisers said they were still reviewing the final provisions of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Monday morning, but a resolution appeared to be close at hand.

In a weekly meeting with Senate Republican aides Monday morning, a White House official said that Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, was involved in intense talks with both House Democrats and the Mexican Senate and a breakthrough could be reached as early as Monday, according to two people in the room who requested anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

The official, Jessica Ditto, the White House’s deputy communications director, said in the meeting that the revised pact included tough labor enforcement provisions that should help address one of the main concerns that House Democrats have raised in monthslong negotiations with Mr. Lighthizer.

Both the White House and congressional aides have said in recent days that a deal could come shortly, and are pressing for a vote before Christmas.

Labor union leaders, who have long criticized the existing North American trade deal and Mr. Trump’s proposed changes to it, also struck a more positive note.

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, said in an email to The Washington Post on Monday morning that there was a deal, adding “we have pushed them hard and have done quite well.” Mr. Trumka said he would meet with the labor union’s executive council Monday afternoon to discuss it.

People familiar with the negotiations said Mr. Trumka would likely seek approval from the AFL-CIO’s leadership, one of the last remaining obstacles to securing Democratic support. The AFL-CIO did not respond to a request for comment.

Congressional approval of the USMCA would constitute Mr. Trump’s biggest trade win to date and give him a big talking point as he seeks re-election in 2020. Mr. Trump, who has long criticized NAFTA as one of the “worst” trade deals ever reached, promised as a candidate in 2016 to rip it up and replace it with something that did more to help American workers.

But it would also give Democrats a tangible accomplishment amid a bitter impeachment fight and long-sought policy changes to a trade pact they have criticized as prioritizing corporations over workers. Many of the freshman Democrats who flipped Republican districts in 2018 have lobbied for a vote on the deal before Christmas, particularly as the House grows closer to voting on articles of impeachment.

While the Trump administration reached an agreement with Canada and Mexico a year ago, the deal requires congressional approval, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a tight-knit group of Democrats have insisted on putting their own stamp on the pact before bringing it for a vote. They have spent months pressing Mr. Lighthizer to strengthen the deal’s protections for labor and the environment, ensure that its rules can be enforced, and strip out a provision they call a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry.

Republicans have repeatedly hammered Ms. Pelosi for not bringing the agreement to the floor for a vote sooner.

Even if an agreement in principal is announced this week, House Democrats will have to finalize the implementing legislation needed to codify the trade pact before putting it up for a vote on the House floor, though some procedural hurdles could be waived in order to speed the process through both chambers. There are less than 10 legislative days remaining before lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington for the holidays.

The terms of the deal have yet to be announced, and it is not yet clear how the negotiations will change the 2,082-page agreement announced by Canada, Mexico and the United States last year.

In recent weeks, the administration has also been tasked with taking those revisions to Canada and Mexico, who must sign off on the final deal.

On Sunday, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that Mexico had drawn several red lines on revisions, including a blanket rejection of foreign labor inspectors in Mexican factories. Speaking to Mexican senators, Mr. Ebrard said that Mexico would accept three-person panels to resolve disputes, not only for labor issues but also for other controversies.

Mexico and the United States have also sparred over a late American proposal that steel and aluminum used to make cars would be smelted in North America, not just finished here. USMCA requires automakers to purchase 70 percent of the steel and aluminum they use from North American sources to qualify for the pact’s zero tariffs.

Mr. Ebrard said Sunday that “Mexico has shared that this would create many problems.” He said that Mexico would accept the limit for steel five years after the agreement took effect, but not on aluminum.

Elisabeth Malkin reported from Mexico City.

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