Things That Matter

Trump Scores A Major Victory As The Senate Passes His USMCA Trade Deal, But What Does The Deal Mean For Workers?

Mitch McConnell himself has referred to this year’s Senate as a legislative graveyard where bills from the House go to die. He’s literally called himself the legislative grim reaper. Very little law has been formed during the last Congress and the United States can thank the Senate Majority Leader for this lack of progress.

And with all of Washington’s attention on Trump’s impeachment trial (which is finally underway in the Senate), few had much better expectations when it came to the legislative calendar. However, late last week, the Senate passed Trump’s renegotiated trade agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico – referred to as the USMCA (formerly NAFTA).

Surprisingly, the deal also passed with nearly unanimaous support in both the House and the Senate – a rare act of bipartisanship. But what does it mean for the United States? And, perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to the workers the deal will impact most?

Last week, the Senate passed Trump’s renegotiated version of NAFTA – now called the USMCA.

Credit: Unsplash

The revised NAFTA agreement received a rare bipartisan vote of support on Thursday, with a vote of 89-10 in support of the agreement. The deal also received a similar bipartisan vote in the House last month. With the Senate’s approval, the deal now goes to Trump’s desk for a final signs are which is really just a formality since it already has his seal of approval. With the deal’s passage, Trump lands a huge victory on a key campaign promise just as lawmakers are preparing his impeachment trial.

A statement by the White House press secretary called the measure “another trade win for American workers,” replacing “the job-killing, huge failure NAFTA.” 

“USMCA, which the President successfully negotiated over a year ago, rebalances trade between the three countries and will lead to significant economic and job growth in the United States,” the statement said.

USMCA makes several tweaks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994.

Credit: National Archives

The USMCA is meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, negotiated in the 1990s by President George H.W. Bush and pushed through Congress by President Bill Clinton.

Trump and Democrats alike argued that the earlier deal, which opened more free trade across the three countries, damaged American workers by encouraging companies to move jobs out of the U.S. USMCA gives American producers better access to Canadian dairy markets. It creates stricter rules for auto part rules of origin, and requires at least 40% of the parts for a car to be produced in plants where workers make at least $16 an hour. Other changes include updating digital trade and copyright rules.

The tweaks to labor enforcement mechanisms got House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the massive union federation AFL-CIO on board. Trade skeptics in the Senate such as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) backed USMCA. Brown voted against NAFTA as a House member.

However, several major unions and environmental groups still oppose the agreement.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against the agreement because he said it did not do enough to address climate change and protect jobs.

“In my view, we need to re-write this trade agreement to stop the outsourcing of American jobs, to combat climate change, to protect the environment, and stop the destructive race to the bottom,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

And he isn’t alone. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), also opposed USMCA on climate grounds. In a statement Thursday, he said that “on the greatest issue facing our planet, addressing the climate crisis, the USMCA falls far too short.”

Their stance separates them from the rest of the Democrats who are runnin for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar, (D-MN), and Michael Bennet, (D-CO), all voted to pass USMCA on Thursday.

It’s not a done deal yet – the agreement still needs Canada’s signature.

Credit: Pablo Martinez / Getty

In June 2019, Mexico became the first country to ratify the deal. Now that both the House and Senate have passed the bill, all that’s missing on the US side is President Trump’s signature – which is all but guaranteed. Only thing missing is Canada’s ratification but that’s also seen as little more than a formality.

Speaking to reporters ahead of parliament’s return on Monday, Trudeau said Canada would immediately move forward on ratifying the trilateral trade pact, known as USMCA, with the United States and Mexico.

“Passing the new NAFTA in parliament is our priority,” Trudeau said while flanked by members of his cabinet following a three-day retreat. He noted millions of Canadians depend on stable, reliable trade. 

Canada is the last country to ratify the revamp of the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that includes tougher rules on labor and automotive content. The deal cannot take effect until it has been ratified by all three member nations.

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