North American trade deal must be 'greatly improved': top Democrat

Washington (AFP) –


Much work remains to before Democrats will be ready to vote on a new North American trade pact, the speaker of the US House of Representatives said Thursday.

"It has to be greatly improved in terms of enforcement," Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, told reporters. "We think we're making progress."

Negotiations with President Donald Trump's administration to improve guarantees for labor protections for Mexican workers -- a key demand of US labor unions -- are continuing but there is as yet no text to vote on, she said.

"Some of you are urging us to put it on the floor. There's nothing to put on the floor. We don't have a bill," she added.

Pelosi said changes to enforcement provisions should be made within the text of the treaty itself, not in a "sidebar letter."

"America's working families are not served well by the repression of workers in other countries," said Pelosi.

"It has to be enforcement within the agreement," she said. "I think it is possible to do so."

Nearly a year after it was signed by the United States, Canada and Mexico, the future of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) -- a revamp to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement -- hangs in doubt.

The effort to ratify the treaty is among competing priorities' vying for Congress's attention and comes ahead of a presidential election year, when Democrats will be leery of handing Trump a victory.

While Mexico has ratified the treaty and it has made progress in Canada, Democrats who control the House of Representatives say reforms for Mexican laborers, which are meant to protect US industry from exploitative competition, are so far insufficient.

According to media reports, late Wednesday US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a detailed response, answering the concerns of a working group of lawmakers led by Pelosi -- something which could help kick-start efforts to ratify the treaty.

"We've made an offer. They've made an offer, now we have to sit down," said Pelosi.

Outside the Capitol on Thursday, Democratic and Republican House lawmakers joined farmers and farm lobby representatives in rallying for swift passage of the USMCA.

US farmers have borne the brunt of retaliation in Trump's trade conflicts, losing export markets and facing higher tariffs in China and Europe that have caused sales of major crops like soybeans and corn to plummet.

This has put pressure on lawmakers from rural areas to demand the return of stable trading relations.

"We're very close. I feel very confident that we're going to get it done," Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat representing a trade-dependent Texas district on the Mexican border, said during Thursday's rally.

"Pelosi will put it for a vote."