PLATTSBURGH — Passage of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement — intended to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — needs to happen before the end of the year, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) said Thursday.
Echoing previous statements by Vice President Mike Pence and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, she contended that, should House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) bring the USMCA's ratification to the floor, it will pass.
"Many of us are stepping up, including Republicans and Democrats, to call on Speaker Pelosi to no longer hold this agreement, frankly, hostage," Stefanik said.
"We need to get this done before the end of the year.
"It’s too important to the American people, but also it’s very important to my district."
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and President Donald Trump's administration continue to work aggressively with the Speaker's office to encourage bringing the USMCA to the House floor, Stefanik said.
"It’s a huge opportunity for us to deliver a result to the American public who wants modernized trade deals."
Key provisions for the North Country region include the continuation of NAFTA's zero-tariff treatment as well as expansion in access for U.S. dairy products to the Canadian market, Stefanik said.
Changes also include the elimination of Canadian milk classes 6 and 7, which the congresswoman asserts "unfairly allow low-priced milk products or dairy products to undercut U.S. products."
The USMCA expands market access and creates greater protections for intellectual property, she continued.
"It is the strongest labor trade agreement ever, historically, so these are wins for the country but also wins for the region."
On Thursday, Pelosi reiterated previous concerns about the USMCA's enforceability — Democrats have pointed in particular to unease about environmental standards and Mexican labor statutes — and stated, "We're on our path to yes."
That same day, the Washington Examiner reported that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had put in writing promises that his government would increase funding to ensure compliance with the USMCA's labor statutes.
The USMCA "brings labor obligations to the core of the agreement, it makes them fully enforceable and, as I said, it’s the strongest provisions of any trade agreement," Stefanik said.
"I’m fighting every day to make sure that this gets done as quickly as possible."
'NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT'
There is nothing more important pending in Washington than the USMCA, North Country Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Garry Douglas said.
"That’s because there’s nothing more important to the economy of the North Country than the U.S.-Canadian economic partnership."
Like Stefanik, Douglas brought up beneficial provisions for dairy producers and agriculture interests.
"However, far and above that, what is most critical for the North Country in terms of this agreement is to reach a point of settlement and predictability."
While the deal was being negotiated last year, disputes between the U.S. and Canada, tweets, insults and the threat of a cancellation of NAFTA created a sense of uncertainty that caused a monthslong dry spell in Canadian companies' interest in the North Country, Douglas said.
Then around Oct. 1, 2018, when the terms of the USMCA were formally agreed to, the figurative spigot was turned back on, full blast.
"There was all this pent-up intention to do things and it has been strong ever since," Douglas said.
Should Congress not approve the USMCA later this year, that could re-open NAFTA cancellation threats and re-create that paralysis, Douglas said.
"We just can’t afford to have it — for reasons related to political differences — interfered with.
"What you don’t want to see is to take such an enormously important economic partnership — the most important economic partnership in the world — (from) which the North Country has positioned itself to benefit most especially, and to have that disrupted by failure to move forward."
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