WASHINGTON—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Oct. 31 that the impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump would not disrupt the approval of the new free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, the fate of which is still uncertain in Congress.
The House voted on Oct. 31 to pass a resolution laying out the next steps in the impeachment investigation, which raised questions about whether the growing partisan rancor would derail a congressional vote on the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA).
Speaking at a weekly press conference before the House vote on impeachment, Pelosi said the lawmakers would act on the trade pact “when we are ready.”
“If we can come to terms, and I think we’re close to doing so, this will be a template for future trade agreements. It would be a good pattern for how we can proceed. So we have an opportunity to do it right,” she said. “We’re not there yet, but we understand the last mile that we have to go. I am optimistic.”
When asked if impeachment inquiry would disrupt the passage of the USMCA, Pelosi said “they have nothing to do with each other.”
“It only has to do with our coming to an agreement and to terms as far as the House of Representatives is concerned.”
Democrats, who control the House, have repeatedly raised issues about the USMCA. Their key areas of concern are enforcement of labor and climate provisions of the deal, as well as provisions dealing with pharmaceuticals.
In June, the Trump administration and House Democrats formed a trade-working group to resolve their differences.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who leads the working group, confirmed on Oct. 30 that the differences have narrowed.
He told reporters that they have “made some advances” this week but there are still some issues. He said it would be helpful if both sides met with the AFL-CIO and other labor groups to discuss remaining differences on labor and enforcement “during the next 10 or 12 days.”
Democrats earlier raised concerns about Mexico’s ability to implement labor standards and called for stronger enforcement provisions.
On Oct. 28, Trump criticized Democrats for delaying the approval of the USMCA.
“They’re the Do-Nothing Democrats. And, frankly, if they put it up, it’s going to win very easily. It’s going to have bipartisan support,” he told reporters. “I have no idea what they’re doing with it. I can’t imagine it takes this long. But they’re so busy focusing on a witch hunt and a scam.”
Democrats face growing pressure from farmers and the business community to bring the USMCA to the House floor before the end of this year.
Once approved by Congress, the USMCA will replace the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The USMCA maintains tariff-free access to Mexico for U.S. exporters. And for Canada, it provides tariff-free access for 99 percent of U.S. goods and lifts some barriers facing U.S. dairy and poultry exports.
“What USMCA does for agriculture is really more about trade rules than tariffs,” said Kevin Paap, a farmer and president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.
“There is increased access for dairy and poultry,” he noted, adding that the new deal would lift restrictions on wheat exports to Canada as well.
The USMCA also has strong labor rules, which makes the deal an important milestone for international trade, according to trade experts.
Under the new agreement, 75 percent of auto content must come from North America, up from the original threshold of 62.5 percent. The higher threshold will help boost production and employment in the region.
The agreement also incentivizes the use of high-wage labor in auto manufacturing, requiring 40 percent of each car and 45 percent of each truck to be made by employees earning at least $16 an hour in order to qualify for duty-free treatment.