Editorial: Congress should pass USMCA trade pact

The Detroit News

Before Congress gets entangled in a battle over impeaching President Donald Trump, it should move to approve a new trade pact with Mexico and Canada. The window appears to be narrowing for getting anything productive done in Washington, but this is one piece of business that is essential to maintaining America's decade-long prosperity streak.

It should get top priority.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was negotiated a year ago to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and has been awaiting action in Congress. Democrats demanded stronger enforcement guarantees for the pact's labor provisions, as well as stronger environmental protections.

President Donald Trump, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, left, signed the USMCA on Nov. 30, 2018.

Last week, Trump agreed to changes to address their concerns, which also included a clearer process for resolving disputes between nations.

Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who served under the Obama administration and is a backer of USMCA, told The Detroit News this week he believes the changes will win over enough Democratic votes to secure passage in the House.

Moderate Democrats from export-reliant districts are pushing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the agreement to a vote and he expects passage by the end of the year.

Hopefully he's right.

With Democrats lining up to begin a divisive impeachment inquiry, the economy will need some show of stability from Congress.

Finalizing the trilateral agreement with America's most important partners would at least give business certainty the trading environment.

That's particularly essential to the domestic automobile industry, which, along with agriculture, is most impacted by the trade deal.

USMCA is not perfect — it meddles too deeply in the labor and environmental policies of other nations and raises too high the U.S. content demands before a vehicle can be considered made in America. But it does address some of the deficiencies of NAFTA, including strengthening intellectual property protections. 

And it allows the auto industry and others to make future production plans with a clearer understanding of U.S. trade policy.

That — along with a resolution to the trade war with China — would give the economy a boost at a time when the turmoil in Washington might make investors nervous.

Pelosi and House Democrats should not let this vital trade pact fall victim to Washington's partisan wars. This shouldn't be about granting or denying Trump a key economic victory heading into the 2020 election.

It should be about doing what's right for America's manufacturers, farmers and workers.