KEN BREDEMEIER - U.S. President Donald Trump predicted Thursday that Congress would eventually approve the new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, but acknowledged that 2020 election-year politics could stall its passage.
Some Democrats in the House of Representatives have balked at immediate ratification of the treaty to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement because of drug pricing issues and U.S. labor union concerns about the degree to which Mexico will enforce better conditions and higher wages for workers in the country.
"I hope politically they can do what they have to do," Trump said of Democratic lawmakers as he held trade talks at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "Now, the day after the election [on Nov. 3, 2020], it would win with tremendous support, but we have an election coming up."
Still, Trump said he thought Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic-controlled House, and the chamber as a whole "will approve it, and the [Republican-controlled] Senate will approve it rapidly. It's going to be very bipartisan."
He added, "It's great for farmers and the manufacturers, it's really great for everybody, and unions, it's great for unions. It's tremendous, it really is, and it shows a partnership between three countries."
Trump and Trudeau discussed the trade deal a day after the Mexican Senate voted 114 to 4 to approve it. Canada has yet to ratify it.
In a Twitter comment, Trump congratulated Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on the vote, saying it was "Time for Congress to do the same here!"
Lopez Obrador hailed the outcome, saying, "It means foreign investment in Mexico, it means jobs in Mexico, it means guaranteeing trade of the merchandise that we produce in the United States."
The trade deal is the replacement for the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump had called NAFTA one of "the worst trade deals ever made," saying it killed U.S. jobs and gave all the advantages to Mexico.
But the new agreement is almost identical to the old one. The main differences include the condition that cars exported to the United States must contain more U.S.-made parts, and U.S. dairy farmers will be able to sell products to Canada. Wages for Mexican workers would increase.
Some Mexican lawmakers say they feel Trump bullied Mexico into accepting a new trade deal, but they voted for it because they said there was no alternative. Mexico sends about 80% of its exports to the U.S., products worth $358 billion last year.
Lopez Obrador blunted Trump's recent threat to impose a 5% tariff on Mexican exports to the U.S. by agreeing to curb the surge of Central Americans traveling through Mexico to try to seek asylum in the United States. Mexico is sending 6,000 troops to its border with Guatemala to try to halt migrants from there, Honduras and El Salvador from entering Mexico.
Even with the uncertainty of passage in Congress, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Wednesday that he thought Democratic concerns about labor and environmental provisions in the accord could be resolved. Pelosi has appointed a working group to meet with Lighthizer to try to ease Democratic objections to the deal.