U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials on Monday said several factors indicate that the effort to secure U.S. approval of the pact recently has gained momentum.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing for a House vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) before Congress’ August recess, as the U.S. approval process appears to be making progress, chamber officials said Monday.
A large share of the Democrat caucus is willing to engage on the agreement, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recently assigned several lawmakers to USMCA working groups that are trying to ensure the pact’s implementing legislation includes language addressing Democrat concerns on issues including labor and enforcement, noted chamber Senior Vice President for International Policy John Murphy.
House Ways and Means Committee lawmakers have held three hearings since February that touch on USMCA, and the full committee will host U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday for a hearing on the Trump administration’s trade agenda.
House Democrats have not released an exhaustive list of provisions that must be included in USMCA implementing legislation to win their approval, indicating talks between House Democrats and the Trump administration are continuing, Neil Bradley, chamber executive vice president and chief policy officer, said during a call with reporters.
“We’ve reached that kind of stage in the process where it’s important for the administration and members of Congress to have … closed-door discussions,” Bradley said. “That’s how you reach resolution. So if anything, I wouldn’t be looking for bright lines drawn in the sand because that would signal more difficulty ahead.”
Murphy mentioned letters recently sent to the Trump administration by Democrat Ways and Means members outlining their concerns on USMCA’s labor, environmental, enforcement and pharmaceutical provisions.
He said some Democrat concerns have been stated more clearly than others. For instance, Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and other Democrats identified USMCA’s retention of NAFTA’s existing state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism as a concern, Murphy said.
“I don’t know that we’re likely to see much in the public eye between now and … whenever it is that the implementing legislation is actually introduced,” Murphy said.
NAFTA’s current state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism essentially allows member states to block the formation of dispute settlement panels once their panel rosters expire.
In 2000, Mexico initiated a dispute proceeding against the United States’ supply management program for domestic sugar. The United States’ roster of potential arbitration panelists had already expired by that time and the U.S. refused to appoint new members.
The Trump administration on May 31 sent to Congress the draft statement of administrative action (SAA) for expected USMCA implementing legislation, clearing the way for the introduction of draft implementing legislation in Congress as early as July 9.
Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation requires the executive branch to wait at least 30 days after sending the draft SAA to submit draft trade agreement implementing legislation to Congress and requires the draft legislation to be sent on a day both chambers of Congress are in session. July 9 is the earliest day that both the House and Senate will be in session after the 30-day clock expires.
Submission of draft legislation and further forward action will be possible starting on that date, Murphy said. Submission of draft legislation on July 9 would leave the House with four weeks to consider USMCA, if House leadership decides to hold a vote before the August recess.
Lighthizer wrote in a cover letter sent with the draft SAA that the submission ensured that Congress has enough time to consider USMCA before the August recess if congressional leadership deems it appropriate, though he did not state when the Trump administration plans to send draft implementing legislation to Capitol Hill.
While Murphy said it’s likely that “not everybody’s going to get everything that they want” in a USMCA approval package, he added that he’s optimistic congressional Democrats’ concerns can be addressed.
“We think the objectives of securing a vote on USMCA in the House before the August recess is a reasonable goal,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t take the concerns that the Democrats have articulated seriously, but we think the gaps are bridgeable.”
Murphy continued, “We think that these concerns can be addressed, and no one should get bogged down in legal questions about how to do this, whether it’s a side letter or something in the implementing bill. Trade lawyers know how to get this kind of thing done.”