WASHINGTON (AP/KARK) — The Senate overwhelmingly approved a new North American trade agreement Thursday that rewrites the rules of trade with Canada and Mexico and gives President Donald Trump a major policy win before senators turn their full attention to his impeachment trial.
The vote was 89-10.
The measure goes to Trump for his signature. It would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, which tore down most trade barriers and triggered a surge in trade. But Trump and other critics blamed that pact for encouraging U.S. companies to move their manufacturing plants south of the border to take advantage of low-wage Mexican laborers.
Passage of the trade bill came one day after Trump signed a new trade agreement with China, easing trade tensions between the economic powers.
“Quite a week of substantive accomplishments for the nation, for the president and for our international trade,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shortly before the vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal.
Trump campaigned in 2016 on ripping up trade deals that he said added to the nation’s trade deficit and cost the country manufacturing jobs. He promised he would rewrite NAFTA if elected, a pact he described as “the worst trade deal in history.” He can now go to swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and tell voters he followed through on that pledge.
Mexico has approved the revised trade deal. Canada is expected to do so in coming months, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government long insisting it would wait for U.S. approval before proceeding.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was a rare voice in speaking against the agreement. “It will mean higher prices for American consumers, who will have to pay more money for a car and therefore will have less money available for any of the other things they would like to consume,” Toomey said. “It will probably lead to an increase or acceleration in the shift to automation.”
The agreement aims to have more cars produced in the United States, where workers earn an average of at least $16 an hour. It also secured changes that require Mexico to change its laws to make it easier for workers to form independent unions, which should improve worker conditions and wages and reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to relocate their plants.
While the administration completed its negotiations with Canada and Mexico more than a year ago, Democrats in the House insisted on changes that they said made it more likely Mexico would follow through on its commitments. As part of those negotiations, the administration agreed to drop a provision that offered expensive biologic drugs — made from living cells — 10 years of protection from cheaper knockoff competition.
Republicans and the president have complained about how long it took to complete the negotiations, but the talks resulted in a rare mix of support for the trade deal.
The AFL-CIO, an association of trade unions, endorsed the measure, as did scores of business and farm groups. The biggest holdouts were environmental groups, which continue their opposition, saying the deal doesn’t address climate change. Indeed, they contend the agreement would contribute to rising temperatures.
“Despite the fact that it includes very good labor provisions, I am voting against USMCA because it does not address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued the following statement after the Senate passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):
“We’ve long waited for this day and now USMCA will finally head to the President’s desk,” Secretary Perdue said. “The passage of USMCA is great news for America’s farmers and ranchers. With Congressional consideration now complete, our farmers and ranchers are eager to see the President sign this legislation and begin reaping the benefits of this critical agreement. I thank President Trump and Ambassador Lighthizer for successfully delivering an improved and modern trade agreement and working so hard for the people of American agriculture to get this deal across the finish line.”U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) released the following statement after voting for the Senate-passed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):
“Passage of USMCA ensures Arkansas agricultural producers, manufacturers and small businesses have a level playing field to compete in the global market. This deal with our state’s top two trading partners will support economic growth, enhance market access, create jobs and increase economic opportunity. For too long, Arkansans have asked Congress to act on this modernized trade deal. Fortunately, the Senate worked promptly to move this historic agreement through to the finish line. I’m pleased we are able to deliver this economic accomplishment for hardworking Americans.”U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR)
According to Sen. Boozman, the benefits of USMCA to Arkansas include:
- Increased market access for state products
- Opening the Canadian market to chicken, turkey and eggs produced by Natural State farmers
- Supporting more than 120,000 Arkansas jobs
- Supporting more than $2 billion in exports from Arkansas to Canada and Mexico annually
- Providing stability in an uncertain trade environment
Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) released the following statement:
“The USMCA doesn’t just improve market access for our state’s agricultural producers and small businesses—it also makes Arkansas workers more competitive with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts. Once Canada signs the agreement, the president’s efforts to replace the outdated NAFTA will be complete.”U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)