U.S. Labor Leader Trumka Is Said to Back Trump’s NAFTA Rewrite

December 10, 2019by Jennifer Jacobs, Erik Wasson, Josh Wingrove and Jenny Leonard
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer attends a signing ceremony of the Section 232 Proclamations on Steel and Aluminum Imports at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump secured approval for his U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement from a key U.S. labor leader, according to three Trump administration officials, clearing one of the final hurdles for the deal to get a vote in Congress as soon as next week.

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in the U.S., will support a compromise deal on the trade pact hammered out between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Mexican government, the officials said.

The AFL-CIO’s approval should ease passage of Trump’s NAFTA revision through the Democratic-led House, which may vote as soon as next week, according to a different person briefed on the negotiations. Trumka spoke with Trump before briefing the labor group’s executive committee at 2 p.m., according to two other people familiar with the matter.

The labor union’s spokespeople didn’t respond to a request for comment. Lighthizer and Jared Kushner will travel to Mexico Tuesday in an effort to finish the NAFTA overhaul, according to three people familiar with their plans.

The revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement is one of Trump’s top priorities, and its passage would help the White House make the case that he’s pursuing policy achievements on behalf of the country even while lawmakers debate removing him from office.

At the same time, a deal would show that Democrats can legislate while also investigating the president’s administration.

“I’m hearing a lot of strides have been made over the last 24 hours with unions and with others,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “I’m hearing very good things. I’m hearing from unions and others that it’s looking good, and I hope they put it up to a vote.”

Pelosi spent Monday reviewing changes to the agreement that Lighthizer and his Mexican counterpart Jesus Seade put on paper over the past week.

Lighthizer and Seade exchanged proposals on labor inspection rules and tougher steel provisions and finished a compromise package late Friday that they submitted to Pelosi, the people said. A demand from the U.S. regarding steel and aluminum, which people briefed on the talks said came from the United Steelworkers union, threatened to stall the negotiations last week.

In a change of plans Monday, Seade stayed in Mexico rather than returning to Washington to meet with Lighthizer again, according to three people familiar with his plans. Now Lighthizer will travel to Mexico along with Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said earlier Monday that he expects a decision from the U.S. on the agreement very soon.

“Now is the time to vote on it,” Lopez Obrador said Monday. “I am optimistic we can reach a deal.”

Seade and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard plan to update reporters on advances in the negotiations later Monday, the ministry said.

While all parties are still reviewing the deal, representatives from the three countries are already discussing where to have a signing ceremony, according to one person familiar with the matter.

The peso extended a five-day climb after news of a potential deal, rising 0.5% to become the second best-performing currency in emerging markets on the day.

Pelosi last month cautioned that even with a deal, there might not be enough time to vote on the agreement this year, reminding her members that “in a world of instant gratification,” legislating takes time.

There are still a number of procedural hurdles before the agreement can come to the floor for a vote, including committee hearings and review of the implementing bill in the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees. Those steps could be waived to save time, though, and people familiar with the talks said lawmakers are likely to skip some of them.

Democrats from rural, swing districts are especially eager to get a deal done. Farmers have faced devastating economic losses this year because of the trade war with China, although the president has blamed some of that on the delay in getting the USMCA approved.

The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent government panel, in an April analysis said USMCA would boost the U.S. economy by 0.35% and lead to 176,000 new jobs in the sixth year after implementation, a small addition to the 132 million people employed full-time in the U.S.

Leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. signed the agreement more than a year ago and the White House and Democrats have spent months locked in tense negotiations over four key areas: environment, labor commitments, drug-patent protections and enforcement mechanisms. In recent weeks, the discussions have focused on the deal’s labor enforcement.

One of the main sticking points was a Democratic proposal to enforce labor rights by allowing products from factories accused of violations to be inspected and blocked at the U.S. border. California Representative Jimmy Gomez, a member of House Democratic negotiating team, said last week that Pelosi and Lighthizer have offered Mexico a compromise on labor enforcement that “respects Mexico’s sovereignty.”

Republicans and the business community increased pressure on Pelosi as they grew concerned that time was running out for a vote in 2019, believing it would be difficult to hold a vote in an election year. Pelosi said she wouldn’t rule out a vote in 2020, although she said her preference would be to get it done sooner.

The president has become increasingly frustrated that his deal has stalled and expressed pessimism about the chances Congress would ever take it up for a vote.

“Hard to believe, but if Nancy Pelosi had put our great Trade Deal with Mexico and Canada, USMCA, up for a vote long ago, our economy would be even better,” Trump said in a tweet on Saturday. “If she doesn’t move quickly, it will collapse!”

Trump and his advisers tout USMCA as the best agreement ever negotiated for unions and Democrats, particularly the deal’s labor provisions and stricter auto-content rules that they say would boost U.S. manufacturing.

Trumka urged Democrats in a November meeting not to rush into an agreement without strong enforcement procedures and said they should hold out for more concessions. Pelosi told Bloomberg News last month that she has been in close contact with labor unions throughout the negotiations because they “have shared values.”

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With assistance from Justin Sink, Eric Martin and Nacha Cattan.

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©2019 Bloomberg News

Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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