EDITORIAL: Sign the deal

Congress should pass USMCA before ending business for year

The possible impeachment of our nation’s president is a major issue. But the world doesn’t stop turning because of it, and Congress still has other business to address. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said Monday that lawmakers are close to ratifying the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and could do so this week. Let’s hope they do so.

Congressional Republicans have said they are ready to vote on the pact, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Democrats are close but must resolve a few issues, such as some trade and labor guarantees.

A deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement has been in the works since President Donald Trump took office nearly three years ago; scrapping NAFTA was one of his campaign promises. He and the presidents of the other two countries signed a preliminary deal, renamed the USMCA, more than a year ago.

Despite the presidents’ signature, each country’s legislative body must approve the agreement. Mexico’s Senate did so June 20. Canada’s House of Commons passed it May 29, but the parliamentary bodies were dissolved in September, before Senate ratification, and new elections were held in October. The action voided all pending legislation, and the treaty must be reintroduced after Canada’s new Parliament convenes today. Each body will make changes to the agreement before approving it, and the three versions must be reconciled before it finally goes into effect.

For example, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said he wants to add better assurances regarding the safety of Mexican highways, particularly the route from Reynosa to Monterrey.

Mexican drug cartels frequently hijack tractor-trailer rigs and use them to block highways when they lay siege to certain areas.

Until a final USMCA is approved, the 25-yearold NAFTA will remain in effect. Afterward, the new deal will provide adjustments to address changes in business and trade that have occurred over the past quarter century. It will set new standards for worker conditions, including new minimum salaries, and further ease tariffs among the three countries. It also will set new point-oforigin requirements for components used in auto manufacturing and other assembled goods and strengthen environmental and patent protections.

Many analysts fear that if the deal isn’t ratified this year it could be left in limbo as the 2020 election season heats up. In addition to the presidency, all House seats and one-third of the Senate are up for grabs, and primaries begin in two months.

Some people have voiced concerns that ratification will give Trump an achievement he can use in his reelection campaign; however, this race likely will focus more on personalities and the overall differences between the major political parties.

USMCA’s approval might not affect the presidential race, but it will show voters that despite their disagreements, members of Congress are able to work together to enact major legislation.

We hope that gives them enough incentive to use their last week addressing their concerns with the trade deal, and approving a final version before this year ends.