By Andrea Shalal and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Democrats said they ironed out some differences with the Trump administration on Thursday about a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, and that Congress could still vote on the deal – one of President Donald Trump’s top priorities – this year.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the two sides made progress during her more than hour-long meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal.
“We’ve made progress. I think we’re narrowing our differences,” she told reporters at the U.S. Capitol.
The USMCA deal, which will replace the $1 trillion North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, faces opposition from labour unions that worry it will not protect U.S. jobs.
Trump has repeatedly accused Democrats of stalling a vote on the deal to avoid handing him any kind of victory.
Republicans worry that the prospects for ratifying the agreement could diminish if it drags into next year given the 2020 presidential election and the possibility of an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate on whether Trump should be removed from office.
Democrats argue they have been working hard with Lighthizer and his staff to ensure sufficient enforcement of the labour and environmental provisions of the trade agreement.
“We’ve made substantial progress on at least three of the five (issues),” including enforcement, Neal told reporters, although he declined to identify the remaining sticking points.
He said Congress could still vote on the agreement this year – and that remained his goal.
Neal said he would speak with Lighthizer and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka by telephone next week – despite the Thanksgiving holiday. He said Democrats would offer some counter-proposals to Lighthizer’s office. “We’re going to stay right at this through the next week.”
The Democratic lawmaker underscored the importance of ensuring the trade deal would be enforced, noting that was a legitimate complaint about past trade agreements.
Before the meeting, Pelosi told reporters that progress was being made, but that it would take time to write the bill and bring it to a vote.
Mexico has already ratified the deal, which was signed by the three countries about a year ago, while Canada says it is waiting to move in tandem with the United States.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Richard Cowan; Writing by Andrea Shalal, Tim Ahmann and Heather Timmons; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)