WASHINGTON—Racing to get business done before it is sidelined for weeks to deal with an impeachment trial, the United States Senate passed the new North American Free Trade Agreement Thursday morning.
“The House’s hour is over, the Senate’s moment is at hand,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of impeachment at the beginning of business Thursday. “Before we turn to the trial in earnest, the Senate has one more accomplishment to deliver to the American people,” he said.
Just under two hours later, the deal passed by a vote of 89 to 10, with substantial support from both parties.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, as it is formally called, had already passed the House of Representatives, and will now proceed to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature. Mexico has already ratified the deal, leaving only Canada’s Parliament to ratify it before it comes into effect. The Canadian government has long said it expected to approve the deal quickly once the U.S. had.
“A rising tide lifts all boats, and this new NAFTA puts a bigger oar in the water,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican representing Iowa, said on the Senate floor Wednesday, adding, “I’d like to take this opportunity to call on Canada to quickly ratify the agreement.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, noted he was voting for a trade agreement “for the first time in my career” because of the labour standards Democrats had been able to obtain in the renegotiation of the deal late last year.
The USMCA, which will govern the vast majority of Canada’s international trade, was negotiated and then renegotiated over a period of more than two years after Trump threatened to pull out of NAFTA, which he called the “worst trade deal ever made.” It updates the agreement to open up Canada’s dairy market slightly to U.S. imports, imposes stricter standards on Mexican labour, and increases intellectual property protections and environmental standards, among other things. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who negotiated on behalf of Canada, has said the deal is a “win-win-win.”
The deal was not universally popular among American legislators, however. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is running for president, said during a prime-time presidential primary debate on Tuesday that it made “modest improvements” to NAFTA, but “we can do much better than a Trump-led trade deal” that he complained would lead to job losses due to outsourcing and doesn’t contain the words “climate change.”
Senators worked quickly to move the deal forward as the House was preparing to transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate. Four Senate committees passed their reviews of it early Wednesday in preparation for a floor vote.
The move was one of two significant trade achievements Trump was able to trumpet to counter the impeachment headlines. On Wednesday, he held a signing ceremony at the White House with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He for “phase one” of a new trade pact between the two countries.
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