NAFTA is history as Senate gives final approval to USMCA

Don Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- Congress gave final approval to the new North American trade accord Thursday, with the Republican-controlled Senate moving swiftly during President Donald Trump's impeachment proceedings to hand him one of his biggest wins since occupying the White House.

There was never any doubt that the Senate would pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement after the House overwhelmingly approved it last month in rare bipartisan fashion.

The only question was by how much, and when it would reach the Senate floor. In the last few days Republican leaders pushed the legislation quickly through several committees, started debate Wednesday by unanimous consent and scheduled a roll call for Thursday morning before members of the Senate are sworn in as jurors for Trump's impeachment trial.

The vote was 89 to 10, with one Republican and eight Democrats plus Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who is running for president -- voting no.

"There was a lot of momentum to get USMCA done and behind the administration before things could get really bogged down with impeachment and frankly the campaign season," said Daniel Ujczo, a trade lawyer at Dickinson Wright who has been closely tracking the trade measure.

Final Senate action on the USMCA, which replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, came just a day after Trump signed a partial trade deal with China. The deals fulfill two of Trump's major campaign pledges, although the final agreements achieve far less than Trump promised.


However, the two agreements have significantly eased trade tensions that had darkened the economy over the last two years. Trump slapped multiple tariffs on China during an 18-month trade war, and repeatedly threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if Canada and Mexico did not make concessions.

Trump had long slammed NAFTA as a "disaster" for American industry and workers. In that way he shared the disdain that many Democrats and labor groups have of NAFTA and free-trade pacts generally, viewing them as a job killers. As a candidate, Trump promised to do away with the quarter-century-old pact or rewrite it.

Canada and Mexico are the United States' top trading partners, with three-way trade in goods reaching about $1.3 trillion.

The three countries began renegotiating NAFTA in the summer of 2017, and the parties concluded talks in September 2018.


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