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So you agreed on a new North American trade agreement? Congratulations, but now comes the hard part

If the deal is not ratified, countries will revert to the original NAFTA deal, but Trump could also raise the stakes

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Smiles were wide and relief was palpable in Ottawa on Monday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the renegotiation of the North American trade deal.


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But while the deal marks the end of a year-long negotiation work and certainly deserves some celebration, for observers in the United States it was about the smiles of people who have never had to deal with the US Congress.

Getting the deal ratified by the US House of Representatives, which may soon be controlled by a Democratic party hostile to US President Donald Trump, could be a significant obstacle to the deal being achieved.

The most prominent pessimist about Congress intentions? It would be Trump himself, who told reporters on Monday that he was “not at all convinced” that the deal would go through the US legislature.

“Anything you bring to Congress is a problem no matter what,” Trump said.


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President Donald Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, October 2, 2018.
President Donald Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, October 2, 2018. Photo by Susan Walsh / AP /PA

In Canada, the situation is facilitated by the majority Liberal government, which should ratify the agreement with ease. In Mexico, although the current government lost an election midway through negotiations, the incoming administration appears to be happy with the deal. It’s a different story in the United States, where the Republican grip on power may soon be somewhat diminished.

It’s not sure, but popular vote polls suggest Democrats are poised for a strong performance in the midterm elections in early November. This could give them control of the House, which must ratify the new trade agreement before it goes into effect.

In a stern warning on the way forward, Representative Richard Neal, Democratic member of the House Ways and Means Committee, issued a statement Monday saying “the bar for supporting the new NAFTA will be high.”

Democratic opposition to the deal could manifest itself in two ways, either through principled opposition to the trade deal or as part of a political effort to deprive Trump of victories. Trump himself appeared to anticipate this opposition, saying on Monday that he expected the Democratic position to be: “Trump likes it so we’re not going to endorse it.”


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As Neal mentioned in his statement, Democrats were very skeptical of the original NAFTA deal and there is still a protectionist streak running through the left wing of the party. That may change, however, because during Barack Obama’s time as president, Democrats embraced free trade through negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, from which Trump withdrew.

“It’s another time. Democrats are the party of the TPP and this deal looks a lot like the TPP, ”said Laura Dawson, director of the Canadian Institute at the Wilson Center.

Dawson said that even if Democratic leaders adopt the USMCA – the new name for renegotiated NAFTA – they may find it difficult to compete for votes on the left, allowing extreme left and right-wing factions to team up and reject the trade deal.


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It is also possible that the Democrats are employing a strategy of total opposition to Trump.

Rejecting the USMCA and robbing Trump of a big win may be tempting, Dawson said it would be difficult for House officials to deny the economic gains the trade deal brings.

“Now every member of Congress is aware of the jobs that depend on NAFTA at a granular level in their district,” Dawson said.

If the deal is not ratified, countries will revert to the original NAFTA deal, but Trump could also raise the stakes by threatening to withdraw from the original deal if the House refuses to adopt the new version. .

Brookings Institute member Geoffrey Gertz said it all depends on the political calculations Democrats make if they take control of the House.


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  1. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council after a deal was reached in the NAFTA negotiations in Ottawa on Sunday.

    Cars, Cows and a Crisis Averted: Highlights of the New NAFTA Agreement

  2. Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, right, stands behind President Donald Trump, left, at a press conference as he announces a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Monday, October 1, 2018.

    How Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner helped save North American commerce

  3. Foreign Secretary Chrystia Freeland made an appearance in a panel titled

    How Trump’s attack on Chrystia Freeland could have been the catalyst for a new trade deal

There is pressure on the left for impeachment proceedings against Trump, and while Democrats don’t go that far, they can launch inquiries into virtually every nook and cranny of the Trump administration.

At this point, getting anything else to the House becomes a tricky time management issue.

“Getting this deal through would require a concerted effort to get it on the agenda and get it through Congress,” Gertz said. It’s possible that Democrats are seized by other priorities and that votes for a Trump trade deal just aren’t high on their list.

“Congress has limited bandwidth,” he said.

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