Democrats on Tuesday grew more positive toward President Trump's U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.
Lawmakers said the deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement included several encouraging changes now that they had had the time to pore over the text. The comments suggest that the Trump administration may have a chance for congressional approval of the deal even if Congress switches hands to the Democratic Party after the midterm elections.
“The USMCA appears to be an important step forward — easing some of Canada’s unfair trade barriers and increasing market access for our dairy farmers," said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. Baldwin had been a critic of NAFTA.
Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., said he was "extremely disappointed" that the deal did not eliminate NAFTA's Chapter 19 dispute-resolution section regarding anti-dumping and countervailing duty decisions, which he said harmed his state's timber industry. He added, though, that he was "hopeful" that the Trump administration will still be able to provide assurances to the industry. He praised the new deal's fair labor practice provisions and changes to safety practices for cross-border trucking, which he said were long overdue. "I look forward to continuing to work closely with stakeholders, as well as the administration, on the implementing legislation and new regulations," DeFazio said.
Edward Alden, senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, said there was enough in the deal that leaned towards polices that Democrats favor that it doesn't make senses for them to come out against it. "Trump has gone farther in addressing some of their concerns than previous presidents have," Alden said.
The deal is designed to try force manufacturers to locate more production in the U.S. by making outsourcing to Mexico, a longtime concern of many trade-skeptic Democrats, less profitable, raising labor costs and reducing incentives to locate supply chains there. The deal requires that 75 percent of the parts of a car need to be made in North America for it to be duty-free, up from the 62.5 percent level set by NAFTA. It also requires that at least 40 percent of all auto content be made by workers making at least $16 an hour or its equivalent.
The deal also obligated Canada to roll back some of its dairy price support programs and open up its markets to more dairy imports. This would allow U.S. producers to gain 3.6 percent of the Canadian market, up from the 3.25 percent that Canada had previously agreed to under the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of.
The announcements follow other muted praise from Democrats unaccustomed to having much positive to say about the Trump administration. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the new agreement "is good news for wheat growers who would no longer face an unfair Canadian grading system — a change I’ve been pushing for."
Democratic leaders have remained noncomittal about the deal, but also have not dismissed the possibility of backing it. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic Leader, said that the deal takes "large steps" toward improving NAFTA.
Many pointed out that the implementation was key. Nevertheless, Democrats said the broad outlines were good. "On first glance, it appears this administration has made incremental progress on goals long championed to uplift North American workers devastated by the original agreement. However, the devil is in the details," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.