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Pence Goes to Canada, Looking for a Sprint to the New NAFTA

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue took his turn on Wednesday as Trump administration herald, calling for Congress to approve the USMCA, with its modest gains for agriculture, by August. Vice President Mike Pence and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are to confer today in Ottawa on what could be a summertime sprint to ratify the successor to NAFTA.

Trudeau presented an implementation bill, numbered C-100, on Wednesday, a day after telling reporters, “We’re going to be aligning ourselves very much with the pace of the American administration.” Time is limited in each capital. The House of Commons is scheduled to adjourn in three weeks and the Canadian Senate a week later, with federal elections set for October 21. The U.S. House plans seven weeks and the Senate eight weeks of work before the monthlong August recess.

“Based on the congressional schedule, we absolutely need to have this happen before the August recess. The longer it lingers out there, the more difficult it is,” said Perdue on USDA radio. Pence has toured the U.S. for weeks to promote USMCA passage. “The clock is ticking. It’s time. We need Congress to approve the USMCA, and we need Congress to approve the USMCA this summer,” Pence said at a North Carolina yarn mill a week ago.

In Ottawa, the vice president is to meet Trudeau on next steps for USMCA adoption and deliver a speech on the benefits the three nations can expect from the trilateral trade pact. Pence and Trudeau will “discuss how to move forward swiftly to advance this critical deal,” said a Pence aide ahead of the trip.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose relationship with President Trump is increasingly strained, has said that additional provisions are needed on labor and environmental protections and on enforcement of the USMCA before a vote can be called. While Pence advocates putting pressure on House Democrats by sending a USMCA implementation package to Capitol Hill, Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, would prefer to find common ground with Pelosi, said the Wall Street Journal, describing division within the administration.

“It would help if [Canada] went ahead of the United States [and] put more pressure on Congress,” said Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley on Tuesday. Grassley will play a leading role in Senate consideration of the USMCA. Under the U.S. Constitution, the House must act first because the trade agreement, by altering tariffs, is a tax bill.

The implementation bill pending in Canada would allow Parliament to ratify the USMCA while giving the federal cabinet the power to “make any changes the Governor in Council considers necessary for the purpose of implementing,” reported CTV News.

A minority-party member of the Canadian House, New Democrat Tracey Ramsey, suggested that Canada agree to speed USMCA adoption in exchange for the removal of U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. CBC News quoted Ramsey as saying, “Trump is trying to pressure Nancy Pelosi to get this on the floor.”

The White House began negotiations with Democrats in Congress last week to resolve objections to the trade agreement.

The USMCA preserves the NAFTA guarantee that U.S. farm exports can, for the most part, enter Mexico and Canada duty-free. It expands the U.S. share of the Canadian dairy market and calls for equitable grading of U.S. wheat offered for import into Canada. Mexico and Canada account for one third of U.S. trade in food and agriculture.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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