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Michigan lawmakers applaud NAFTA replacement signature

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan lawmakers reacted favorably across party lines to President Donald Trump's signing of the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

No Democratic lawmakers were invited to attend Wednesday's signing ceremony despite bipartisan support. But U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, said in an interview with The Detroit News that the trade pact, known as the U.S.-Canada-Mexico-Agreement, transcends partisan politics and will do wonders for auto-parts suppliers in her district by providing certainty about trade rules with Canada and Mexico. 

President Donald Trump speaks during an event at the White House to sign a new North American trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

"What we're getting with this deal is a vast improvement from NAFTA," said Stevens, who was chief of staff of the U.S. Treasury task force that planned and oversaw the financial bailout and bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors from 2009-11. 

"I was proud to have worked with Republicans and Democrats to get something done for our economy," Stevens continued. "I think this transcended politics. It encompasses a long overdue reworking (of NAFTA). This is about competitiveness." 

More:Trump signs NAFTA replacement into law

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, agreed in a press conference ahead of Trump's ceremony where Democrats highlighted changes to the initial draft of the USMCA submitted by the Trump administration in 2018. The changes focused mostly on enforcement of provisions designed to protect American workers from problems caused by low wages in Mexico and environmental protections.

"I was somebody that believed we needed a new NAFTA," Dingell said. "This trade deal won’t undo the damage that’s been done to workers since NAFTA 1.0 was passed….we have too many factories that are empty, and I have too many workers that are unable to compete with subpar non-unionized workers in Mexico." 

Dingell said lawmakers will have to do more to address trade imbalances that have festered since the original NAFTA was approved in 1994. She referenced General Motors Co.'s decision to build its second-coming of the Chevrolet Blazer in Mexico. 

President Donald Trump, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right,  and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, left, participate in the USMCA signing ceremony in November 2018.

"This agreement is an improvement, but I think the message from us is this is just the beginning," she said. "What this bill did do was give American workers a level playing field, which they haven’t had since NAFTA 1.0 was passed. 

"The Blazer plant that wasn’t located in the U.S. was paying $3.50 (to) $4 hour," Dingell continued. "Our workers can’t compete with that."

U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said the USMCA is not perfect, but called it an improvement from the initial deal announced by the Trump administration, including stricter labor standards.

Republicans lavished praise on Trump for getting his long-sought NAFTA rewrite over the finish line. 

"The USMCA delivers on a key promise to negotiate a stronger deal that benefits Michigan workers and levels the playing field with our neighbors," U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said in a statement. He said the agreement will provide greater opportunity to sell American-made products and create more good-paying jobs.

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, added: “I have said from the beginning of my time in Congress that NAFTA was outdated and needed to be replaced. The USMCA brings necessary updates that ensure economic growth, greater access to markets, agricultural expansion, and job creation." 

klaing@detroitnews.com

202-662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing