WASHINGTON — Representatives of the United States, Mexico and Canada on Tuesday agreed to amend a North American trade deal, accepting significant changes demanded by House Democrats on workers’ rights, environmental protection and prescription drug prices.
The compromise all but guarantees that President Donald Trump will achieve one of his top priorities: a replacement for the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement that he says stripped the industrial Midwest of millions of factory jobs.
At a signing ceremony in Mexico City’s National Palace, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Jesus Seade and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland endorsed revisions to the 2,000-plus page accord they had produced one year ago.
“This is the best trade agreement in history,” Lighthizer said. “It’s something that’s going to make North America richer. It’s gonna make America richer. It’s going to make Canada richer, and it’s going to make Mexico richer.”
The revised trade deal — called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — would create new intellectual property protections, require that more North American parts be used in automobiles to qualify for zero tariffs, open the Canadian milk market to U.S. farmers and create new rules for e-commerce. It would also boost wages, benefits and safety rules for workers and put in place updated environmental protections.
The modified deal would add tougher measures to ensure that Mexican officials implement promised labor reforms, such as recognizing the right of workers to form independent unions. The U.S. government would be able to crack down if Mexico doesn’t comply.
With Democratic and labor backing, the pact should help the president appeal to blue-collar workers next year — a critical constituency for his re-election hopes.
“It’s a rare thing that’s a win for Trump and a win for Democrats,” said Gregory Mastel, a senior trade adviser for the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren. “There aren’t too many of those.”
On Twitter, the president celebrated progress toward rewriting the rules governing more than $1.2 trillion in merchandise trade.
“America’s great USMCA Trade Bill is looking good. It will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA. Good for everybody — Farmers, Manufacturers, Energy, Unions — tremendous support,” Trump tweeted. “Importantly, we will finally end our Country’s worst Trade Deal, NAFTA!”
The House is expected to vote next week on legislation to implement the deal, which also reflects the emergence of the digital economy in the quarter-century since NAFTA took effect. But the Senate will not take up the measure until after an expected impeachment trial early next year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said.
Reflecting Republican concern over the concessions Trump granted to win Democratic support, McConnell offered only a tepid endorsement.
“It’s not as good as I had hoped,” he told reporters.
McConnell spoke shortly after House Democrats took credit for rewriting the deal.
“There is no question that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA. It is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “We’re declaring victory for the American worker.”
Helping sway Democrats, the nation’s largest labor federation backed the compromise.
“We demanded a trade deal that benefits workers and fought every single day to negotiate that deal; and now we have secured an agreement that working people can proudly support,” said Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president.
Trumka called the revised accord a “vast improvement over both the original NAFTA and the flawed proposal brought forward in 2017.”
The agreement is the first to contain “enforceable labor standards,” which will include inspections of suspect manufacturing sites in Mexico, he said.
But labor is not united. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, one of the AFL-CIO’s major affiliates, said the agreement fails to halt the flow of American jobs to Mexico.
“U.S. workers have been waiting over 25 years for a responsible trade deal that puts their interests ahead of corporations who are fleeing our shores,” said IAM President Robert Martinez. “They are still waiting.”
Bringing Democrats and some of their labor allies on board marks a singular achievement for the president and, in the long run, may scramble the entrenched politics of trade. But the Democrats’ public crowing sparked Republican concern that Trump had overpaid for Pelosi’s support.
“It’s clearly moved way to the left,” said Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.