Inside D.C.

Trump Inks NAFTA 2.0; Credit Tug-of-War Ensues

All that U.S. heavy lifting to get the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), also known as NAFTA 2.0, is over with President Trump’s signature January 29 fulfilling his campaign pledge to replace the original tripartite treaty – “a nightmare, the worst trade deal” in U.S. history – now fulfilled.  Mexico approved the treaty first and did so quickly; Canada isset to begin consideration of what it calls the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) this week.  

Once Canada ratifies the treaty, a process expected to take just a couple of months, USMCA goes into effect 90 days thereafter. 

Of course, Washington, DC, couldn’t just bask in the glow of a bipartisan victory. There was plenty of sniping over which political party gets credit for pushing USMCA over the finish line.

Trump beat the USMCA victory drum loudly even as the Senate continued his impeachment trial.  A “colossal victory” for farmers and ranchers is how Trump described the modernized $1-trillion trade deal, an arrangement worth more than $45 billion a year for U.S. agriculture in duty-free cross-border trade.

The president, taking a big, slow victory lap for the media, was surrounded at this week’s signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House by agriculture/agribusiness leaders, as well as a crowd of GOP lawmakers, and he moved to take full credit for the final treaty, setting off the latest partisan dust-up in the process.  

Because no Democrats were in the White House ceremony mix, House Ways & Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D, MA) was prompted to wonder out loud, “Perhaps we were not invited to today’s event on the South Lawn because our presence would be a prominent reminder of our critical leadership in achieving the deal.”  Neal reminded reporters that when USMCA implementing legislation was sent by Trump to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) “it was dead on arrival. Only due to Democrats’ tough negotiations did the agreement become viable.”

House Democrats refused to move to an up-or-down floor vote on USMCA until the Trump trade team agreed to significant changes to sections on labor, environment, drug pricing and enforcement.  Neal led the Pelosi-appointed House working group which negotiated changes with Special Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer.  Lighthizer chose a higher road than his boss, thanking Pelosi and Neal for their work, praising those efforts and expanding his gratitude to both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.  Lighthizer said, “they made this a bipartisan success.”   

However, Democrat presidential wannabe Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT), less than a week before the Iowa caucuses, declared USMCA to be “an absolute disaster.” He declared that if elected, he will renegotiate the treaty yet again because it does not specifically address climate change and is a “giveaway to the fossil fuel industry.”  

Missing from the White House event was Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Why?  He’s in Europe, specifically Brussels, Rome and Amsterdam, and he’s already met with European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan.  Perdue is charged with convincing EU trade ministers that at least a partial U.S.-EU free trade agreement, one that includes agriculture, is a good idea.  Perdue told Hogan, however, there won’t be any deal between the two superpowers unless the EU agrees to concessions on food standards, including accepting U.S. poultry that’s been “acid-rinsed” to remove bacteria. 

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