By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday cited “positive momentum” in the U.S. process to ratify a new North American trade deal, which has been in limbo for months amid concerns over labour standards.
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA) was signed almost a year ago by the three countries, but the U.S. House of Representatives has yet to hold a formal vote to ratify it. Democrats want better mechanisms to enforce labour and environmental protections, and to ensure that the deal does not lead to higher drug prices.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week she would not rule out a vote on the deal slipping into next year, but hoped it could happen sooner.
“It is a pleasure to see the positive momentum that seems to be happening on this renewal of this very important trade deal,” Trudeau said at the start of talks in Ottawa with the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal.
Mexico has already ratified the new deal, but Canada is holding back on the grounds that it wants to move in tandem with the United States.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has made it clear that Ottawa has no intention of reopening the pact.
Freeland said in a statement that the two sides had discussed “the shared commitment … to support the implementation of important labour reforms in Mexico.”
Neal, who also met with Canadian Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, said the trip was productive. “I particularly stressed the importance of meaningful enforcement mechanisms that ensure the protection of workers in all three nations and of our shared environment,” Neal said.
Hajdu visited Mexico in August to create a new bilateral working group to help implement the USMCA’s labour protections and standards.
A Canadian government source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation, said, “Our interlocutors are not the Democrats but the White House.”
Freeland said she had discussed the ratification process this week with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who led the Trump administration’s efforts to negotiate the trade pact, a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)