US vice president sees summer approval of USMCA trade deal

Ottawa (AFP) –


US Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday he hoped the revised North American free trade deal would be ratified this summer.

Pence met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a visit to Canada aimed at building momentum to get a the continental trade deal passed, and said President Donald Trump is "absolutely determined to work with rank and file in the Congress and the leadership to move" the deal forward.

However, The Washington Post and CNBC reported from Washington shortly after those comments that Trump intends to force the hand of Congress, notifying lawmakers that he will put the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) before them within 30 days.

The reports cited administration sources saying the move would put pressure on Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had warned the administration not to move until she had time to resolve lawmakers' concerns.

In Ottawa Pence said, "Issues in Washington DC can arise but the American people should know and people in Canada should know that our administration is absolutely committed to driving forward to seeing the Congress of the United States approve the USMCA this summer."

After a year of tough negotiations following Trump's criticisms of the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, Ottawa, Washington and Mexico City last November signed the new pact revamping rules on manufacturing, digital commerce and labor rights, among other sectors.

The new deal still must be ratified by all three countries in order to come into force.

Pence, who is steering efforts to get the deal through Congress where it is facing pushback ahead of elections next year, has travelled to US states that depend on trade with Canada and Mexico to drum up support for the deal.

Trudeau on Wednesday presented the treaty to Canada's parliament for ratification while Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday presented it to Mexico's Senate.

Trump this month cleared a major stumbling block to approval by removing contentious US tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum, which both countries demanded as a pre-condition of moving forward on the trade pact.

But Democrats in Congress continue to have concerns about workers' rights, dispute resolution and other issues.

At a joint news conference with Trudeau, Pence renewed calls on China to release two detained Canadians, saying the pair "have been wrongfully detained for the last six months without due process of law."

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were detained in apparent retaliation for the December 1 arrest of a top Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver on a US warrant.

"We stand with Canada in this cause," Pence said.

Pence added that Trump is expected to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an upcoming G20 summit, a meeting expected to be heavily focused on resolving the escalating trade frictions between Washington and Beijing.