New Democrats Urge Lighthizer to Resolve Outstanding USMCA Issues

July 8, 2019 by Dan McCue
President Donald J. Trump congratulates U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as he delivers remarks on the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) in the Rose Garden at the White House on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Pete Marovich/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON – Six members of the New Democrat Coalition wrote the U.S. Trade Representative on Monday urging him to respond to congressional concerns regarding the new North American Free Trade agreement, known as USMCA, to ensure its successful bipartisan passage.

“While we appreciate your willingness to listen, we have not seen any meaningful progress or tangible proposals from you to address these concerns,” wrote Representative Derek Kilmer, D-Washington, the chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, in the letter to Ambassador Robert Lighthizer.

He was joined in sending the letter, by Representative Suzan DelBene, D- Wash., vice chair of the group, and Representatives Ron Kind, D-Wis., Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas.

The representatives stress their belief that it was clear from the outset of talks that such proposals are necessary for a successful resolution of concerns over the trade deal, and they remind Lighthizer they were “troubled” when he sent a draft State of Administrative Action to Capitol Hill on May 30 without consulting House members beforehand.

“We … strongly urge you not to make the same mistake twice,” the coalition members say.

If it is approved by all three countries, the USMCA would replace the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement. But in the U.S., House Speaker Pelosi has objected to the deal, saying it lacks adequate mechanisms to enforce its labor and environmental provisions, or rein in the cost of prescription drugs.

As speaker, Pelosi is under no obligation to bring the USMCA up for a vote until her concerns are addressed. Under current rules, the earliest the USMCA could pass in a House vote, should one be allowed, would be in the second week of July.

In the meantime, Pelosi has established four working groups of lawmakers to meet with Lighthizer and his staff to try to hammer out a solution.

“It is our belief, as legislators intimately involved with the law under which the new NAFTA was negotiated, that moving forward with implementing legislation absent the agreement of Democratic leadership would almost certainly be taken as a failure to fulfill the consultation requirements of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015,” the representatives say.

The New Democrats close on a positive note, telling Lighthizer they remain optimistic that outstanding concerns can be addressed in a timely manner. However, they also warn that any action by the Trump administration to send implementing text to the Hill ahead of these resolutions or without an agreement from Democratic Leadership would be premature and unproductive.

The trade representative’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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