Democrats report little progress on USMCA following Mexico trip

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A delegation of congressional Democrats reported little progress in advancing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade following a meeting Tuesday with Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador.

Democrats have been insisting on more action by Mexico to enforce the USMCA’s labor provisions before they will consent to having a House vote on the trade deal.

“Our meeting with President López Obrador shed further light on the Mexican government’s desire and intentions to carry out its labor justice reform, but the United States needs to see those assurances put into action,” said House Ways and Mean Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the leader of the delegation, in a statement to reporters.

New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, one of the delegation members, tweeted that the discussion went well and that “President López Obrador was forthright and gracious.” He indicated, however, that the underlying issues remained unresolved: “I made clear to @lopezobrador that a new deal must protect US & Mexican workers. Anything less will be a dead letter in Congress.”

The Mexican president said he urged the Democrats to approve the deal, arguing it “benefits the peoples of the two nations.”

Approval of the trade deal, which would replace the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, has been hung up for months due to Democrats’ concerns that Mexico will not follow through and enforce the deal’s labor provisions. Mexico amended its labor laws earlier this year, but Democrats argue it hasn’t allocated the funds necessary to ensure workers are protected.

“A primary focus of the members’ time in Mexico was to assess the nation’s ability to follow through on promised reforms and implement the legal, institutional, and cultural changes in accordance with Mexico’s laws and the renegotiated agreement’s requirements,” Neal said.

Democrats have said they want to back a version of the USMCA deal, but the time frame for a congressional vote has been repeatedly pushed back, with November now appearing as the likely time.

Republicans are arguing that a vote cannot be delayed any further. “The clock is ticking, and Americans are waiting for Congress to pass USMCA so they can reap the benefits of an agreement well-negotiated by the president,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, in an op-ed Tuesday.

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