WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives gave its approval on Thursday to an amended version of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Mexico hailed the vote in favor of the USMCA, known in Spanish by the initials T-MEC.
“With the approval of the T-MEC begins the new stage of investment and growth for Mexico,” Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter. “The phase of uncertainty ends. We move forward. Good news.”
The US House ratified the USMCA by a vote of 385-41. Most of the negative votes were cast by Democrats on the left wing of their party, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, known collectively as “The Squad.”
The proposed successor to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will head now to the Senate, where President Donald Trump’s Republican colleagues are in the majority.
Washington, Ottawa and Mexico City initialed the USMCA in November 2018 after more than a year of negotiations spurred by Trump’s demand for a new pact to replace NAFTA, which he described as “one of the worst trade deals in history.”
While Mexico’s Congress ratified the USMCA in June, the Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives in January, demanded stronger environmental and labor provisions in exchange for their support.
On Dec. 10, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an agreement with the Trump administration on modifications to the USMCA and the revised text was signed hours later in Mexico City by Mexican lead negotiator Jesus Seade, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Pelosi hailed the amended text as a “victory for the American worker.”
“America’s great USMCA Trade Bill is looking good. It will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA. Good for everybody – Farmers, Manufacturers, Energy, Unions – tremendous support. Importantly, we will finally end our Country’s worst Trade Deal, NAFTA!” Trump said on Twitter.
Yet one aspect of the agreement between Trump and the Democrats sparked controversy in Mexico, where officials responded angrily to talk coming out of Washington that the US would send inspectors south of the border to ensure compliance with the labor standards set out in the USMCA.
The Mexican government sent a letter of protest to Lighthizer, who defused the situation by clarifying that the compliance officials would not carry out inspections in Mexico.
A key change in the USMCA is a requirement that 75 percent of cars be made in North America, up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA. Additionally, between 40 percent and 45 percent of a vehicle’s content must be produced by workers who earn at least $16 per hour, a stiffer requirement that could lead to more cars being manufactured in the US and Canada, as opposed to low-wage Mexico.
The deal also offers US dairy farmers greater access to the Canadian market and includes new provisions regarding e-commerce and intellectual property rights.