By Natalie Andrews and William Mauldin
WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats were moving toward a deal with the Trump administration on a new trade accord with Canada and Mexico, but progressive members of her caucus are holding out for more protections for U.S. labor and stronger enforcement provisions.
"I do believe that if we can get this to the place it needs to be, which is imminent, that this can be a template for future trade agreements. A good template," Mrs. Pelosi said.
When the caucus met later Thursday, moderate freshman Democrats, many facing tough races next year, pushed for approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. They said they rallied in force to show Mrs. Pelosi she would have the support to bring the measure to the House floor, even if it divided the caucus.
"We have to continue getting things done, even in this tough environment. Especially in this environment," said Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat representing a district carried by Republican President Trump.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), a progressive and a member of the USMCA working group, stood up in the meeting and told the caucus to wait, according to a lawmaker in the room. She said lawmakers would be held accountable for their vote for years to come.
"This is a legacy vote," she told reporters afterward. "Those who are anxious just to move for something need to think about the necessity for getting it right."
A Democratic staffer tried to play down the dispute, calling it a family conversation and pointing out that families can disagree.
The trade pact, if endorsed by Democrats and enacted by Congress, would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and could be one of the few legislative accomplishments for this Congress. If a final deal is struck it also would mark a major legislative and trade-policy win for Mr. Trump, who vowed in his 2016 campaign to renegotiate or terminate Nafta.
Since Nafta passed in the Clinton administration, Democrats have lost the support of union workers in places such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, in part because many jobs went overseas and to Mexico. Those states were key to Mr. Trump winning in 2016, partly because he promised to bring jobs back to the U.S. and boost manufacturing.
Democratic aides and lawmakers say they still need the Trump administration to put details on paper to resolve major areas of concern for Democrats. Democrats are waiting on commitments from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on requests to make the deal more enforceable, a top issue for labor unions, according to a senior Democratic aide.
"We want to iron out two or three bottom-line issues and present them to the USTR and then proceed from there," said Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D., Mass.), who leads the negotiations.
Passage of the USMCA would bolster Mrs. Pelosi's claim that she can pass legislation and investigate Mr. Trump for possible impeachment at the same time.
For businesses, the pact would change Nafta very little overall but provide some important rules for technology and pharmaceutical companies that could be replicated in future agreements. USMCA would give biologic drugs in North America at least 10 years of intellectual-property protection from similar generic versions, although Democrats have sought to change that provision due to concerns over drug affordability.
A pact also would reassure farmers worried about Mr. Trump's repeated threats to pull the U.S. out of Nafta, while American milk producers would get additional access to Canada's tightly regulated dairy market.
Car makers would face new rules on North American content requirements and wages that could raise vehicle prices, but some U.S. suppliers would benefit from the rules, as would auto-part workers, economists say. Detroit auto makers have criticized some provisions but aren't expected to oppose the deal.
House Democrats have been going back and forth with Mr. Lighthizer, the Trump appointee who negotiated USMCA with Canada and Mexico, on provisions in the pact since June.
Democratic negotiators have worked down to the details on their agreement with the administration, though it could still get derailed, a Democratic aide said. Democrats' key focus has been making USMCA more enforceable for labor and environmental rules.
Meanwhile, a big sticking point will be getting support from labor leaders who have said they want to see what changes House Democrats and Mr. Lighthizer can agree on before backing the deal.
USMCA would raise labor standards in an effort to improve working conditions in Mexico while its auto-industry rules aim to raise wages there. While labor groups including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said it is an improvement over Nafta, the new deal has been widely criticized for not having stronger enforcement provisions to prevent U.S. companies from across the border to cut costs.
Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com and William Mauldin at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 14, 2019 19:31 ET (00:31 GMT)
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