Pence says it’s ‘vital’ for Congress to pass US-Mexico-Canada trade deal

Vice President Pence said Tuesday that it is “vital” that Congress pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), saying it would boost the U.S. economy and strengthen President Trump’s hand as he negotiates with China on trade.

In remarks to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Pence said the Trump administration has “ended the era of economic surrender” and touted the president’s trade agenda as one that puts American jobs and workers first.

“It’s absolutely vital for Congress to pass the USMCA,” Pence said.

The new USMCA was signed by three countries last year but has not been approved by Congress. It would replace the North American Trade Agreement, which Trump has repeatedly denigrated.

Pence’s remarks at the Heritage Foundation represent the latest effort by the White House to pressure Congress to approve the USMCA.

Democrats have voiced concerns about labor, environmental and pharmaceutical standards of the bill, in addition to its enforceability. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has remained noncommittal on the timing of a vote on the measure, though she told CNBC in an interview Tuesday that Democrats hope they are on “a path to yes” on the agreement.

“But we hope that we’re on a path to yes. The most important issue outstanding is enforceability,” Pelosi said. 

Pence did not mention Democrats’ concerns about the trade pact on Tuesday but expressed optimism that the administration could reach an agreement with Congress to pass the trade pact by the end of the year.

“I believe we can get it done this year,” Pence said.

Pence said the agreement would boost U.S. investments, exports and jobs and also claimed it would help the administration as it negotiates with China on an agreement to end a trade war with Beijing that has unsettled global markets and piqued fears about the prospect of U.S. economic downturn.

“It’s more than just a good deal between our three countries,” Pence said.

Congress returned to Washington last week and has been negotiating with the Trump administration on the agreement. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the top White House trade negotiator, gave Democratic lawmakers a formal response to requested changes last week, which has not yet been released to the public.

Several members of the group of House Democrats working with Lighthizer on changes to USMCA characterized his response as productive, but declined to reveal details about negotiations.  

The trade agreement is a major economic priority of the president and its passage would represent a key victory for Trump as he approaches reelection in 2020.

“Everybody wants USMCA. It’s very important, even more so now than it was two weeks ago. But people really want it,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday.

Pelosi described the prospect of giving Trump a victory by passing the pact as “irrelevant” in the interview with CNBC on Tuesday.

“The idea that we would give a victory to the president is irrelevant. It’s a victory for the American people,” Pelosi said. 

Sylvan Lane contributed. 

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