Trump tries to build momentum for NAFTA replacement at Trudeau meeting

President Trump met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday as part of the ongoing effort to secure a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

At Trump’s insistence, the U.S., Canada and Mexico agreed to an update of the 25-year-old agreement. But the agreement faces opposition from many House Democratic lawmakers and labor unions. 

“I hope politically they can do what they have to do,” Trump said of Democratic lawmakers. “Now, the day after the election it would win with tremendous support, but we have an election coming up.”

In the end, it comes down to whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would bring a bill that implementing the changes necessary to enact the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Pelosi insists that changes are needed to generate Democratic support, and has appointed a working group to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on finding ways to ease Democratic lawmakers’ concerns.

“My hope is that over the course of the next couple of weeks we can make substantial progress,” Lighthizer told the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.

“I think Nancy Pelosi is going to do the right thing,” Trump predicted as he met with Trudeau in the Oval Office. He went on to describe USMCA as “great for the farmers, manufacturers. It’s really great for everybody.”

Trudeau told reporters he had a “frank conversation about the path forward” Thursday with Pelosi but said he would not get involved in the U.S. ratification process.

However, the Canadian prime minister later rejected the idea of reopening the deal in order to make changes. 

“We are concerned that any reopening of [the trade pact] could lead to not just lengthy, further negotiations, but also may lead to worse outcomes for Canadians and for Canada,” he said during a press conference at the Canadian embassy Thursday afternoon. 

Mexico this week became the first of the three nations to ratify the agreement.

The White House recently moved to ease passage of the agreement by lifting tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico. The Trump administration also took steps that would allow the administration to submit legislation necessary to implement the trade deal in time for lawmakers to vote before the August recess if they so choose. 

Labor unions, a key Democratic constituency, are seeking assurances that Mexico will enforce enhanced labor standards for workers there because that would reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to move their plants and jobs south of the border. The new deal requires Mexico to encourage independent unions that will bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. 

“If the president insists on a premature vote, we’ll have no choice but to oppose it,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said this week at a union event in Pittsburgh.

Democrats are also voicing concerns over language that would give pharmaceutical companies 10 years’ protection from cheaper competition in a category of ultra-expensive drugs called biologics, which are made from living cells. The need to curb high drug prices has become a rallying cry for voters of all political stripes.

Trump and Trudeau have had a rocky relationship but tensions have eased since a low point last summer when the U.S. president called Trudeau “weak” and “dishonest.” Trump was furious after Trudeau said at a Group of Seven summit that he wouldn’t let Canada be pushed around in trade relations with the U.S.

Trudeau said that he and Trump have been able to maintain their focus on the “things that matter in this relationship.”

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