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U.S. trade chief says he can work out Democrat concerns over North America pact

U.S. trade chief says he can  work out  Democrat concerns over North America pact
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. trade negotiator said on Wednesday he is ready to work with lawmakers “sooner rather than later” to address concerns over a new North American pact, even as a leading Democrat cited problems that could prevent the deal’s approval.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testifies before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on "The President s 2019 Trade Policy Agenda and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he believes core concerns held by Democratic lawmakers over enforcement of labor and environmental provisions in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) can be sorted out quickly.

“In terms of coming to agreement with members, I could sit down in a half a day and work out the labor provision and the environmental provision,” Lighthizer said at a hearing of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.

Earlier on Wednesday, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said she sees several impediments to congressional approval of USMCA, including enforcement tools, labor and environmental protections and provisions on pharmaceuticals.

The deal cannot simply be “NAFTA with sugar on top,” Pelosi told reporters.

USMCA, which replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was signed by the countries’ leaders in late 2018 but has yet to be ratified.

Lighthizer reaffirmed on Wednesday that he did not believe the agreement needed to be reopened to address Democrats’ concerns.

“Right now, we’re going to have a catastrophe if this doesn’t pass,” Lighthizer said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will to travel to Washington on Thursday to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss the deal’s ratification.

Trump has said bad trade deals, including NAFTA, have cost millions of American jobs, and forcing Mexico and Canada to scrap NAFTA was one of Trump’s signature pledges during his 2016 election campaign.

Critics have said the new pact will provide a modest boost to the U.S. economy, an independent report from the U.S. International Trade Commission showed in April.

Wednesday was Lighthizer’s second appearance at a Congressional hearing this week to address lawmakers’ concerns over Trump administration trade policy, including a trade war with China.

Reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Chris Prentice in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas
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