Democrats announce new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement with White House; OK Reps respond

(CNN) — House Democrats and the White House have reached a deal to advance President Donald Trump’s renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement after months of negotiations for changes on Democratic priorities, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday morning.

“There is no question of course that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” Pelosi said at a news conference.

If ratified, the trade deal would represent Trump’s primary legislative success since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives last November. The pact is also viewed as essential by a number of Democratic freshmen from more conservative districts, who not only support the deal on its substance but also believe a bipartisan achievement will play well on the campaign trail.

Asked why Democrats would hand Trump a victory on a major legislative priority even as the House proceeds with articles of impeachment, Pelosi said: “We’re declaring victory for the American worker and what is in this agreement.”

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said completion of the deal came after a round of intense discussions and phone calls between key parties over the weekend.

Neal told CNN after the announcement the tentative plan is to hold a full vote on the deal next week, taking the deal straight to the floor without holding a markup hearing on it.

“We don’t expect any hurdles,” he said.

A nine-member working group of House Democrats had met for months with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer behind closed doors to seek changes related to pharmaceuticals, environmental and labor protections, and enforcement provisions in the deal. Neal praised Lighthizer on Tuesday, saying he was “entirely honorable with the way that he dealt with us.”

Neal said the negotiations with the administration often got heated, joking that he believes he and Lighthizer set a world record for how many times they hung up the phone on each other.

The new version of the deal between the US, Mexico and Canada will get rid of controversial protections for biologic drugs entirely, a decision certain to receive criticism from a number of congressional Republicans.

Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, told CNN on Tuesday that he “strongly urged” the administration to keep the 10-year patent protection provision intact.

“Clearly that was a compromise Ambassador Lighthizer reached with Democrats. I think removing it is a better option than weakening those years further,” said Brady. “At the end of the day, US protections are preserved. That’s important.”

The United States already has patent protections for biologic drugs in place domestically, but Democrats opposed enshrining the protections in the agreement because they want Congress to be able to legislate on drug pricing issues without being bound by the trade deal.

Republicans have long supported including exclusivity provisions for pharmaceutical companies in trade deals. But most GOP lawmakers remain unlikely to side against Trump on the passage of the new trade deal, even though the agreement is far from the free-trade orthodoxy the party had embraced prior to the President’s election.

The new version of the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement would also involve monitoring provisions, including the establishment of an interagency committee to monitor Mexican labor reform efforts and a set of benchmarks for Mexico to meet in implementing the reforms.

“This no longer NAFTA lite,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, who was involved in the talks. “This is a new trade agreement that the working group and the Democrats have achieved in consultation, of course, with our partners.”

The announcement came after AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsed the deal in a statement on Monday. Democrats had sought approval from organized labor, a key constituency for many in the caucus, before moving ahead.

“This is long overdue but very welcome news,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley said in a statement. “I’m glad a deal has finally been reached. I look forward to reviewing the specific language soon and expect committee members will be briefed in person by USTR this week.”

Lighthizer briefed Finance committee members over the phone on Tuesday morning.

Lighthizer will participate in a signing event alongside Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lópes Obrador and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in Mexico City on Tuesday afternoon.

Oklahoma Representatives Respond

Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today issued the following statement regarding the announcement that a deal has been agreed on between House Democrats and President Trump on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):

“The negotiations for USMCA have lasted more than a year. I’m glad that the House has finally agreed to pass USMCA. Oklahomans have been waiting for this day for months. This agreement updates the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and provides manufacturers, agricultural producers, and international businesses a greater ability to trade with our partners. I’m grateful to President Trump for continuing to work toward a solution on behalf of the American people.”

Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) released the following statement after it was announced that President Donald Trump and Congress reached official agreement on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):

“For months, House Republicans have urged floor action on the trade agreement negotiated by President Trump. While I am delighted that USMCA will soon come to the floor of the House for a vote, it is disappointing that Speaker Pelosi needlessly delayed the process for more than a year,” said Cole. “I am eager to vote on the agreement, which strengthens and modernizes the terms of trade with our North American neighbors. I certainly expect swift and bipartisan passage in both chambers of Congress, and I very much look forward to finally releasing the benefits secured by President Trump to millions of American manufacturers, entrepreneurs, farmers and ranchers.”

Congresswoman Kendra Horn (OK-05) issued the following statement after the announcement of a deal between Congress and the President in regards to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):

“Today’s bipartisan agreement is a good deal for Oklahoma’s workers, businesses, and families. Stronger trading relationships with our neighbors mean a stronger economy for our state. That is why I have fought to finalize a free and fair trade agreement every step of the way. In Oklahoma’s 5th District, I’ve heard from workers, families, and businesses about the positive impact this agreement would have for the future of our economy. Until we cross the finish line and this deal is signed into law, I will continue fighting to bring lawmakers from both parties together in support of finalizing the USMCA.”

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