Trump’s trade chief vows to work with Democrats on new NAFTA deal

Trump’s trade chief vows to work with Democrats on new NAFTA deal
U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer said he’s committed to working with Democrats on changes to new North American trade agreement, and that he expects the resulting deal will get broad approval in Congress.

Lighthizer told the Senate Finance Committee in a hearing Tuesday that he’s determined to doing “whatever is necessary” to make the deal more enforceable — one of Democrats’ top priorities.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, which was signed by leaders in November, needs approval by legislators in all three countries to take effect. Trump’s surprise proposal this month to slap tariffs on all Mexican imports over border-security concerns threatened to derail the plan, but it’s now back on track after the president got a migration deal and dropped his threat.

Drug prices

Lighthizer already has been working closely with Democrats, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to resolve concerns about the new accord — including labour and environmental standards, as well as drug pricing — before it can come up for a vote.

The trade chief faced a number of questions on how the USMCA will be enforced, and promised that he’ll work with Democrats on ways to increase resources dedicated to ensuring that it is.

He also said he’ll address Democrats’ concerns about the risk that the deal will prop up American drug prices. Democrat Sen. Deborah Stabenow of Michigan said the U.S. “cannot be in a position” where the USMCA would make it harder to change U.S. laws to make pharmaceuticals cheaper. Lighthizer said the agreement wouldn’t bind the U.S. or prevent such actions.

During the hearing, some Republicans made the case for quick approval of the deal. Sen. Rob Portman from Ohio said it’ll come down to a choice between the status quo — the outdated NAFTA — and the new agreement, including many improvements that both parties like.

Business leaders and some in the White House are pushing for a vote before Congress goes on vacation in August, but Democrats say they don’t want to rush the process.
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