New NAFTA Needs Bipartisan Support, Trade Rep Says

Lighthizer says he hopes Canada joins, and he thinks the deal won't pass without Democrats

Amid euphoria over a breakthrough with Mexico on updating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer offers a stark reality check — it can’t pass without Democrats.

Appearing Tuesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” Lighthizer noted that the process of ratifying the agreement in principle with Mexico is a long one. President Donald Trump will formally notify Congress of its intentions on Friday.

Leaders from Mexico and the United States — and Canada, if it decides to join — will sign the deal at the end of November. But that kicks off more procedures, including a study by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC).

Lighthizer said it likely would not come up for a vote in Congress before February 2019.

The politics of trade are tricky under normal circumstances. But by then, Democrats may  control the House of Representatives, depending on the outcome of the November elections.

“If that’s the case, then there is literally no chance of working, of getting this done, without the Democrats … The reality is without Democrats, it’s just not gonna become law,” he said.

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To that end, Lighthizer said, the president’s trade team is working closely with key figures including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and other Democrats. He said Democrats have a number of constructive ideas that administration officials want to include in the final pact.

“All these geniuses who sit down and say, ‘What’s your vote count in the House?’ And I say, ‘Well, who’s gonna be in the House?’” he said. “That’s not gonna be determined until November.”

Trump stormed into office after months of savaging the 1990s NAFTA agreement on the campaign trail and vowing to renegotiate or withdraw from it. The tentative understanding with Mexico would require a higher percentage of the parts used in vehicles to come from North America and for workers to be paid at least $16 an hour in order for auto imports to avoid tariffs.

Is Lighthizer confident that Canada will be part of the final deal?

“I’m not confident, but I’m hopeful,” he said. “It’s clearly in Canada’s interest to come in.”

If Canada does decide to sign on, it will not be starting from scratch, Lighthizer said.

“It’s not like Canada’s just coming in cold,” he said. “We had thousands and thousands of hours negotiating with Canada and Mexico before the last month or so when we focused on Mexico. Before that, we had seven rounds, more or less a continuous round after that … So, Canada’s very much involved with this. They’ve been involved from the beginning.”

Related: Top Mexican Official Says Trump ‘Proved’ Naysayers ‘Wrong’ on NAFTA

Even as U.S. trade negotiators wrap up their revamp of NAFTA, they are keeping an eye on the behemoth of the global trading system — China. Lighthizer said the Trump administration would finish work by early September on another $200 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese imports.

Lighthizer said Chinese intransigence has been no surprise. The Asian country is running a $375 billion annual trade surplus with the United States. And it’s growing, he said.

“They’re used to a very, very lopsided relationship with the United States,” he said. “In the past, they have never had a president who stood up and said, ‘No more. We’re not gonna let you steal our intellectual property, take our manufacturing jobs and hurt our agriculture.’ And this president absolutely is drawing the line. Things are going to change one way or the other.”

(photo credit, article image: Tesla Auto Bots, CC BY 2.0, by Steve Jurvetson)

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