Tuesday’s big news that the Trump administration and Democrats had finally reached consensus on a trade pact to replace NAFTA inspired praise in some corners, contempt in others. President Trump tweeted: “Looking like very good Democrat support for USMCA. That would be great for our Country!” Republican Congressman Bill Flores, on the other hand, fumed that it was “shameful that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi held this deal up for months to simply appease the socialist wing of her party.”
We’ll share the president’s rare optimism here. What one side of the aisle brands unnecessary delay can constitute legitimate concern for the other. Amidst political polarization to a degree we’ve not seen in our long lifetime, all sides in Washington have nonetheless had constructive input in crafting a pact involving the United States, Mexico and Canada. This will lend U.S. business and commerce long-sought stability in trade matters, especially given the administration’s readiness to impose job-killing tariffs.
It’s a credit to the president that he at last demonstrated the deal-making skills some of us thought we’d get more often with his 2016 election, though the lion’s share of credit goes to long-suffering U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. He worked patiently with all parties to build consensus. The pact is also proof that our president and Democrats can walk and chew gum at the same time, even with all the oxygen taken up in Washington by impeachment lately.
And let’s all acknowledge the truth: Extensive bipartisanship exists on the USMCA trade agreement. Texas accounted for a fourth of all NAFTA trade last year, even as that trade treaty reportedly exhibited some brittleness with no updates in the quarter-century since its adoption. In a statement, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas stressed the importance of reducing trade barriers for Texas farmers, ranchers, producers and manufacturers in future trade with Mexico and Canada “at a time when Texans are facing headwinds from trade disputes around the world, especially our agricultural producers.” He’s talking mainly about China. Ironically, adoption of USMCA should give President Trump more time and more wiggle room in negotiating trade reform with the Chinese. In remarks to the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce last week, Congressman Flores said a recent trip to Beijing confirms the Chinese are clearly suffering from punishing U.S. tariffs.
Democrats should be tickled at some of the improvements, including concessions to unions such as a rule requiring that at least 75 percent of automobile parts be made in North America and nearly half by workers earning an average of $16 an hour. While some Republicans considered unreasonable the Democratic demand these labor rules be monitored in Mexico to ensure compliance, we appreciate the suspicions of labor negotiators, justifiably concerned about U.S. jobs otherwise going to Mexico. We suspect even the president grasped this demand, given that much of his political survival counts on such jobs staying right here in the United States.
Now the challenge is passage of this pact — as soon as next week in the House, hopefully followed smartly by the Senate. The time for excuses is at an end.