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Trump defies Democrats, begins North American trade pact ratification

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Washington (AFP)

President Donald Trump on Thursday kick-started the process of ratifying the new North American trade pact, joining his counterparts in Mexico and Canada while defying Democratic leaders who said the move is premature.

The move means Trump could put the text of the agreement before US lawmakers in 30 days, but the timing of the vote is up to Congress.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also submitted the trade pact to their legislatures this week.

The three countries signed the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement in November, to update the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, and Trump this month cleared a major stumbling block to approval by removing contentious US tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum.

US Vice President Mike Pence after meeting with Trudeau in Ottawa said the White House was committed to ratification this summer.

However, Democrats have said they were still working to address concerns about labor rights in Mexico and other matters.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the decision to press ahead on the ratification process, saying it was "not a positive step," and showed "a lack of knowledge... on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement."

"We have been on a path to yes, but it must be a path that leads to an agreement that delivers positive results for American workers and farmers," Pelosi said in a statement.

Trump's move to push ratification came "before we have finished working with US Trade Representative (Robert) Lighthizer to ensure the USMCA benefits American workers and farmers," she said.

- Thousands of jobs -

Lighthizer submitted the "draft Statement of Administrative Action" to congressional leaders, a step required by law before the final treaty can be ratified.

He called it the "gold standard" for US trade policy, that would create "a more level playing field for American businesses, workers and farmers" and "support thousands of new US jobs."

However, he said the "procedural formality" is not the last step in the process and "does not limit our ability to find solutions to address concerns Members have raised about enforcement of labor and environmental provisions."

The draft "provides an outline for further discusses with Congress on these issues," the letter said, and provides time before the August recess to consider the trade pact.

In Mexico, Lopez Obrador told reporters he was confident the deal would be approved, and hailed the good relations between the North American leaders.

"I am very optimistic and I'm sure it will be approved, even with the differences in the United States," he said.

However, his comment came before media reports that Trump could threaten Mexico with more tariffs to force it to crack down on the flow of migrants from Central America into the United States.

In Mexico, the agreement will have to go through three Senate committees, but after that, "a simple majority vote wins approval, so we're sure it will pass the Senate" and be ratified, Lopez Obrador said.

The deal is crucial for Mexico, which has become a major exporter under NAFTA -- with 80 percent of its exports going to the United States.

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