July 08, 2019

Inside US Trade: New Democrats warn USTR against submitting USMCA implementing bill

New Democrats warn USTR against submitting USMCA implementing bill

Members of the New Democrat Coalition on Monday warned U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer not to send implementing legislation for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement to Congress until he has addressed Democrats’ concerns with the pact. 

“We think it would be a mistake to put forward implementing legislation without an agreement of Democratic leadership,” Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), the coalition chair, told reporters during a press call, pointing to a working group established by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to work with Lighthizer on the key areas of Democratic concern -- labor and environmental standards, biologics and enforcement.

“Absent progress and some agreement on those issues … our perspective is this makes getting the USMCA across the finish line harder, not easier,” he added.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), co-chair of the coalition’s trade task force, noted speculation that the administration would put forward a bill on Tuesday, the earliest it can under Trade Promotion Authority law.

“That would be a bad move by the administration and will divert us from the progress being made,” Meeks said. “New Dems were critical to passing the current Trade Promotion Authority and we would oppose the House considering the USMCA before the working groups have had a chance to seek common ground with the USTR.”

Kilmer, Meeks, and several other New Democrats sent a letter to Lighthizer on Monday urging him not to move forward with implementing legislation until Democrats are on board. Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA), members of the House Ways & Means trade subcommittee, were among the letter’s signatories.

The members praised Lighthizer for engaging in “frank” and “productive” conversations and said they were “optimistic that these limited concerns can be addressed in a timely manner.”

“While we appreciate your willingness to listen, we have not seen any meaningful progress or tangible proposals from you to address these concerns,” they added. “It has been clear from the outset that such proposals are necessary for a successful resolution.”

“It is our belief, as legislators intimately involved with the law under which the new NAFTA was negotiated, that moving forward with implementing legislation absent the agreement of Democratic leadership would almost certainly be taken as a failure to fulfill the consultation requirements of TPA,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “We were troubled that you sent up the draft Statement of Administrative Action on May 30 without sufficient consultation, and strongly urge you not to make the same mistake twice.”

After USTR sent the draft SAA in May, Pelosi said the move was “not a positive step.”

Meeks told reporters on Monday that it “makes no sense” to rush the implementing bill if the administration is intent on working with Democrats to address their concerns. “To me, this really is an opportunity and a chance to show whether or not they’re serious … and whether or not they really want to work this out,” he said. “So I hope they don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Meeks reiterated the New Democrats’ priorities for the USMCA. including stronger enforcement, labor and environmental commitments.

Asked about the timeline for considering USMCA, and if there was a possibility of action in the fall, Kilmer said the coalition hoped the administration will work with Pelosi and the working group to address Democrats’ concerns “both sufficiently and quickly” so the deal can move forward.

“I don’t think there’s a desire to kind of put an artificial timeframe on this, although I think there’s an appreciation and an acknowledgement of the fact that as more sand runs through the hourglass and this gets closer to presidential election season, the dynamics in our nation’s capital get funkier,” he added.

-- Anshu Siripurapu(asiripurapu@iwpnews.com)

By:  Anshu Siripurapu
Source: Inside US Trade