U.S. House passes replacement for North American Free Trade Agreement

Freight trains cross the Rio Grande river near the Laredo Convent Avenue Port of Entry between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.
Freight trains cross the Rio Grande river near the Laredo Convent Avenue Port of Entry between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.
Martin do Nascimento for The Texas Tribune

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House passed a major trade deal on Thursday that will reset the economic relationships within North America.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed with a 385-41 vote and will now head to the Senate, which is expected to approve it next year. The deal will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, a 1994 agreement that dramatically changed the landscape of the Texas economy. While the three countries announced the agreement a year ago, the deal hit some turbulence in the Democratically-controlled House.

Many Texas lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have urged its passage, due to the state’s reliance on cross-border commerce with Mexico. Texas has more ports of entry with Mexico — or any country, for that matter — than any other state in the U.S. In a sign of the trade deal’s importance to the state, all Texans in the House voted in favor of it.

“It is a victory for Texas workers, businesses and communities, as trade between our home state and our North American neighbors supports nearly one million jobs, and results in billions of dollars flowing into our economy,” said U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin. “This agreement is about growth and certainty for our country, and it sends the message that we are going to lead the world.”

Approving the agreement has been especially vital to Texans who represent districts along the border.

“As a representative of one of the largest manufacturing regions in North America, a vote for an updated NAFTA is a vote for the more than 23,000 El Pasoans dependent on a prosperous border economy,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso.

Should it pass the Senate, the USMCA will be the capstone of President Donald Trump’s economic agenda. Republicans from Texas praised the president for his administration’s work securing the deal.

“Let’s give credit where credit is due for the one who led the charge, who did the heavy lifting – our President Donald J. Trump,” said U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock. “In 2016, he was already calling out some of these trade deals as a rip off on American workers and manufacturers. While we saw a 400% increase in trade for agriculture products since the inception of NAFTA, it hasn’t been good all the way around, it hasn’t been fair all the way around, and it hasn’t been productive in terms of keeping jobs here in the United States.”

A number of Texans were closely involved in passage, thanks to assignments on the Ways and Means Committee and the number of Texans who represent the border.

The new, Trump-negotiated deal will have many similarities with the old agreement, but there are some differences. The changes that will most impact Texans include increased enforcement of labor and environmental laws and an increase in the threshold of how much of a car must be manufactured in a country to avoid tariffs.

It is unclear when the Senate will take up the legislation. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated in recent days that he would not address the matter until the conclusion of Trump’s coming impeachment trial. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not publicly determine Wednesday night when she would take the case to the Senate.

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Source: Texas Tribune Blue Left News

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