Trump and Trudeau discuss USMCA finalisation at White House

North American leaders are seeking to expedite ratification of new trade agreement between US, Canada and Mexico.

    US President Donald Trump has recently warmed up to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, especially on trade [Yuri Gripas/Reuters]
    US President Donald Trump has recently warmed up to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, especially on trade [Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

    US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to project a united front on Thursday in the uphill effort to get the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement past the finish line.

    At Trump's insistence, the United States, Canada and Mexico agreed to an update of the 25-year-old agreement. But the new pact faces steep opposition from many House Democratic lawmakers and labour unions.

    "I hope politically they can do what they have to do," Trump said of Democratic lawmakers. "The day after the election it would win with tremendous support, but we have an election coming up."

    Rallying the Democratic rank and file will come down to whether US Congress House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can bring to a vote a bill that would implement changes necessary to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

    Pelosi has appointed a working group to meet with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to address modifications that would allay Democratic lawmakers' concerns.

    "I think Nancy Pelosi is going to do the right thing," Trump predicted as he met with Trudeau in the Oval Office. He went on to describe the deal as "great for the farmers, manufacturers. It's really great for everybody".

    On Thursday afternoon, Trudeau was also meeting to discuss the trade agreement on Capitol Hill with congressional leaders, including Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    Canadian officials had earlier said Trudeau would press US political leaders on the need to enact the new pact quickly.

    "We're moving forward in the ratification process along with you," Trudeau said.

    'Very pleased'

    This week Mexico became the first of the three nations to ratify the USMCA, and Trudeau says Canada is ready to follow suit. Both nations send more than 75 percent of their exported goods to the US.

    The White House recently moved to ease passage of the agreement by nixing taxes on imported steel and aluminium from Canada and Mexico.

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    "We were very pleased with the lifting of [these] tariffs," Trudeau said.

    The White House also took steps that would allow the administration to submit legislation necessary to implement the trade deal in time for lawmakers to vote before the August recess, if they so choose. Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress are pushing for that outcome as well.

    But labour unions, a key Democratic constituency, are seeking assurances that Mexico will implement enhanced labour standards for workers there.

    Such enforcement would reduce the incentive for US companies to move their plants and jobs south of the border, as the deal requires Mexico to encourage independent unions that will bargain for higher wages and better working conditions.

    "If the president insists on a premature vote, we'll have no choice but to oppose it," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said this week at a union event in Pittsburgh.

    'Help Canada'

    Democrats have additionally been voicing concerns over language that would give pharmaceutical companies 10 years' protection from cheaper competition in the category of ultra-expensive drugs called biologics, which are made from living cells. The need to curb high drug prices has become a rallying cry for voters on all parts of the political spectrum.

    Trudeau was also expected on Thursday to bring up the plight of two Canadians being held in China. Beijing detained ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor on December 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei who was arrested December 1 at the request of US authorities pursuing fraud charges against her in the US.

    Trump is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit later this month in Japan, so the president said he would bring up Canada's concerns if Trudeau sought Washington's input.

    "Anything I can do to help Canada I will be doing," Trump said. "I would at Justin's request; I will absolutely."

    Trump and Trudeau have had a sometimes-rocky relationship, but tensions have eased since a low last summer when the US president called Trudeau "weak" and "dishonest". Trump was furious after Trudeau said at a Group of Seven summit that he would not let Canada be pushed around in trade relations with the US.

    SOURCE: News agencies