This editorial was published by the Columbian of Vancouver, Wash.
An agreement on a new trade deal, forged between the White House and Democrats in the House of Representatives, appears to be a victory for American workers. Equally important, it is a victory for the political process during a period of rancor in Washington, D.C.
After months of negotiations, House Democrats on Tuesday announced a deal to advance President Donald Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA) — an update on the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. The Trump administration had worked out the pact last year after talks with the United States’ closest neighbors, and Congress has been working with the White House to put its stamp on the deal.
“There is no question of course that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. The proposal now will move forward for ratification.
Any trade deal has an outsized impact on Washington, regarded as the nation’s most trade-dependent state. Canada typically is the state’s second biggest trading partner, with Mexico also ranking among the top five. With President Trump’s tariff war hampering trade with China, the state’s largest trading partner, securing and enhancing North American markets is crucial to the Washington economy.
The details of any trade agreement can be intricate. For example, the original pact dictates that automobiles must have 75 percent of their components manufactured in the United States, Mexico or Canada to qualify for zero tariffs, an increase from 62.5 percent under NAFTA. It also calls for 40 percent to 45 percent of automobile parts to be made by workers who earn at least $16 an hour by 2023. Other provisions concern U.S. dairy farmers having access to Canadian markets, protections for intellectual property and patent protections for pharmaceutical companies.
Notably, the new pact toughens NAFTA protections for the environment and for workers, and it enhances oversight to ensure that nations are in compliance.
As a member of Congress during the 1990s, Gov. Jay Inslee was a strong supporter of NAFTA. But during his presidential campaign this year, he expressed skepticism of the USMCA, siding with labor unions and environmental groups who focused on the proposal’s shortcomings.
Inslee should recognize that any agreement between three nations requires compromise, and that the agreement’s benefits outweigh its drawbacks. The International Institute for Sustainable Development notes that the plan contains, “a broad and ambitious range of environmental and conservation topics ... including tackling illegal trade in forest products, combating marine plastic litter and reducing alien invasive species.” Given the pact’s importance to our state, Inslee should be a vocal supporter.
Meanwhile, the USMCA demonstrates that Washington, D.C., can accomplish something even under the shadow of impeachment hearings. Contrary to Trump’s frequent assertions, Congress has not been brought to a halt while investigating the president; in fact, hundreds of bills passed by the House are awaiting consideration in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has taken pride in blocking legislation.
That is not expected with the USMCA, where the Senate will eagerly take up what would be regarded as a legislative victory for the president. We are not particularly interested in the scoreboard of Washington, D.C. The important thing is that the deal will be a victory for the economy, especially in this state.