New NAFTA deal could go to Congress in the coming weeks

U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer speaks during opening statements of the First Round of NAFTA negotiations held at Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., on August 16, 2017. (Ting Shen/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)

The Trump administration is on track to deliver an updated North American trade deal to Congress in the coming weeks as President Trump’s chief negotiator, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, has been working through Democrats’ hesitations over the new deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Lighthizer told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Lighthizer, who called the new North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Trump administration has dubbed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, “the strongest, most momentous trade agreement in U.S. history.”

The agreement features advances on intellectual property, labor rights and digital advances, among much more. Democrats recently have pushed for some revisions to the agreement’s labor, environment and enforcement sections, and Lighthizer has worked closely with Pelosi on these issues.

“I have dealt with leadership in Congress and the speaker has been completely fair and above board,” Lighthizer told Senators on the Finance Committee on Tuesday, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

This comes after more than a year of formal negotiations between the U.S., Mexico and Canada to revamp NAFTA, which was implemented in 1994 and transformed the Rio Grande Valley. President Trump, who during his 2016 presidential called NAFTA the “worst trade deal ever made,” and has repeated that trope during his presidency, signed the new deal late last year during a summit in Argentina alongside his counterparts in Canada and Mexico.

The deal was complicated earlier this month when Trump said he was going to implement a sliding scaled tariff on Mexican imports, but canceled the tariffs days before the self-imposed June 10 tariff deadline.

While congressional Democrats have had questions about the new agreement and some of its chapters, Republicans have had a different question.

“When do you expect the administration will send us that agreement to begin voting on?” Cornyn asked Lighthizer on Tuesday.

Lighthizer didn’t provide a date, but said progress has been made.

“My hope is that over the next couple of weeks we can make substantial progress,” Lighthizer said. “I believe we’re on track.”

mferman@themonitor.com