House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer said consideration of the bill could slip into the next Congress and presidential term.
A failure between House Democrats and the Trump administration to clinch improvements to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) well before autumn could trouble the congressional consideration process for the renegotiated NAFTA, House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said Wednesday.
There’s currently a “great deal” of interaction between House Democrat leadership and the Ways and Means Committee in the lead-up to prospective consideration of the agreement, he said during an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Ways and Means lawmakers plan to host U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer this month for a hearing to address USMCA, Blumenauer (pictured above) said.
If submission by the Trump administration to Congress of USMCA implementing legislation happens to slip to next year, congressional consideration could bleed into the next Congress and next presidential term, Blumenauer said.
Moreover, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has demonstrated in the past, she will not act to consider the new trade agreement if she isn’t comfortable with it, he said.
“I’ve seen no evidence that she’s less determined in this tenure of speaker than before,” Blumenauer said.
In April 2008, Pelosi, as House speaker, changed House rules, which effectively delayed congressional passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement until October 2011, after the Obama administration renegotiated parts of the deal reached by the George W. Bush administration.
House Democrats are seeking improvements to USMCA’s labor, environment, enforcement and pharmaceutical provisions.
Blumenauer said House Democrats and the Trump administration have had several warm and encouraging conversations regarding improvements to USMCA, “but specifics, we’ve not had a chance to get to.”
Conversations have been heavy on commitments to work collaboratively and to be transparent, and Lighthizer has been “terrific” in trying to accommodate Democrats’ requests, Blumenauer said.
“I’m hopeful that we would be able to shift to do a deeper dive on what it is that [Lighthizer] really is willing to do, that can be presented and we’ll have a chance to interact with,” Blumenauer said.
Congress won’t be able to consider USMCA until Democrats’ concerns are addressed, and the next three months is the “sweet spot” to see if the Trump administration and Congress can build some accord on what needs to be done, Blumenauer said.
In response to an American Shipper question, Blumenauer said it’s worth exploring whether improvements to USMCA’s state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism — cited as a key enforcement concern by Democrats — could be addressed in a side letter between member governments.
Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Barcena Coqui recently noted that the existing state-to-state mechanism — retained from NAFTA — has failed mainly because the U.S. opted not to submit its roster of arbitrators to serve on dispute panels.
In 2000, Mexico initiated a proceeding under NAFTA’s state-to-state dispute settlement provisions against the United States’ supply management program for domestic sugar, but the U.S. essentially blocked establishment of a panel, as the United States’ roster of potential arbitration panelists had already expired by that time, and the U.S. refused to appoint new members.
Bluemenauer doesn’t view the issue as “intractable” and said he believes there could be a path forward to address it.