OTTAWA — An influential American Democratic lawmaker affirmed his party’s commitment to push the ratification of the new North American free trade deal during a visit Wednesday with the newly-re-elected Trudeau Liberals.
“We want to see this implemented,” said Democrat Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives ways and means committee. The committee he leads oversees trade, which means he will play a key role in bringing ratification of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to the floor of Congress.
“The renewal is very important to the United States,” Neal said, seated next to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his Parliament Hill office.
Neal cited former president John F. Kennedy’s famous line about geography making Canada and the U.S. neighbours, but history making them friends.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who essentially holds in her hands the fate of the agreement on Capitol Hill, “with all certainty” wants to get to “yes,” he added.
Only Mexico has ratified the deal, and Canada will only move forward if the U.S. makes the first move.
Neal and Trudeau shook hands for the benefit of cameras, and discussed briefly the importance of getting the deal ratified in all three countries.
Trudeau said the Liberal government has been working closely with Democrats and Republicans in recent months to get to a “good place where we have the right deal for Canada, the United States and for Mexico.”
“It is a pleasure to see the positive momentum that seems to be happening on this renewal of this very important trade deal,” he said.
Congressional Democrats are in the midst of negotiations with the Trump administration in hopes of fortifying the agreement’s enforcement mechanisms in key areas like labour standards and environmental protections. Trudeau visited Capitol Hill in June for a meeting with Pelosi, following an upbeat visit with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.
Trump approved of Trudeau meeting his Democratic opponents to sell the deal because he needs a win on trade ahead of his re-election bid next year.
The agreement was formally signed by the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico almost one year ago. The Democrats later won a majority in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress, where they control the timing of a ratification vote.
Neal met later Wednesday with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and praised her commitment to the ratification. Neal recalled a lengthy phone call with Freeland while she was out knocking on doors during recent federal election campaign.
Neal declined to answer questions about whether the Democrats want Canada to crack open the deal. But the Canadian government’s position is clear on that point — Freeland and others have said the deal is done.
Trump foisted the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Canada and Mexico, threatening to tear up the deal which he has regularly lambasted.
During talks, Canada and the U.S. pushed Mexico to improve its labour standards to prevent companies in the manufacturing and auto sectors from moving there to take advantage of cheap labour.
Now, the Democrats want to make sure those changes have teeth.
Labour Minister Patty Hajdu joined an expanded meeting between Neal and Freeland to provide an update on how Canada is trying to help Mexico comply with a key USMCA provision — ensuring that measures to improve workers’ rights in Mexico are enforceable.
They discussed the “shared commitment between Canada and the United States to support the implementation of important labour reforms in Mexico,” said a summary of the meeting from Freeland’s office.
Hajdu travelled to Mexico this summer to share Canada’s expertise on improving Mexican labour standards, and Neal paid his own visit to Mexico last month.
Neal tweeted a photo of his sit-down with Trudeau and wrote that his committee is “committed to ensuring a strong, enforceable trade deal that benefits our economy and lifts up American workers.”
Neal was accompanied by three committee members: Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene, who represents a Washington State district that borders British Columbia, Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania and Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia.
Pelosi expressed optimism last week that congressional Democrats and the Trump administration were close to resolving their differences over the deal — notwithstanding the bitter and noisy Democratic impeachment investigation of the president also happening in the House.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 6, 2019.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press