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House Democrat Richard Neal talks new NAFTA with Liberals

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with Richard E. Neal, Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the United States House of Representatives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, November 6, 2019.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
November 06, 2019 - 9:00 AM

OTTAWA - An influential American lawmaker is in Ottawa today for meetings with the Trudeau Liberals on the push to ratify the new North American free trade deal.

Democrat Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives ways and means committee, will play a key role in bringing ratification of the new United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement to the floor of Congress for final legal approval.

Only Mexico has ratified the deal, and Canada will only move forward if the U.S. makes the first move.

Neal and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down this morning for the benefit of cameras, and discussed briefly the importance of getting the deal ratified in all three countries.

Congressional Democrats are in the midst of negotiations with the Trump administration in hopes of fortifying the agreement's enforcement mechanisms in key areas like labour and environmental protections.

The agreement was formally signed by the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico almost one year ago. The Democrats later won a majority in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress, and control the timing of a ratification vote.

"We want to see this implemented," said Neal, who cited former president John F. Kennedy's famous line about geography making Canada and the U.S. neighbours, but history making them friends.

"The renewal is very important to the United States."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who essentially holds in her hands the fate of the agreement on Capitol Hill, "with all certainty" wants to get to "yes," he added.

Trump foisted the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Canada and the U.S., and threatened to tear up the deal which he has regularly lambasted.

During talks, Canada and the U.S. pushed Mexico to improve its labour standards to prevent companies in the manufacturing and auto sectors from moving there to take advantage of cheap labour.

Now, the Democrats want to make sure those changes have teeth.

Trudeau said the Liberal government has been working closely with Democrats and Republicans in recent months to get to a "good place where we have the right deal for Canada, the United States and for Mexico."

"It is a pleasure to see the positive momentum that seems to be happening on this renewal of this very important trade deal," he said.

Labour Minister Patty Hajdu is expected to join an expanded meeting between Neal, Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to provide an update on how Canada is trying to help Mexico comply with a key USMCA provision — ensuring that measures to improve workers' rights in Mexico are enforceable, officials say.

Hajdu travelled to Mexico this summer to share Canada's expertise on improving Mexican labour standards, and Neal paid his own visit to Mexico last month.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, expressed optimism last week that congressional Democrats and the Trump administration were close to resolving their differences over the deal — notwithstanding the bitter and noisy Democratic impeachment investigation of the president also happening in the House.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 6, 2019.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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