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US, Canada, Mexico sign trade agreement

The U.S., Canada and Mexico signed the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Friday. The new deal replaces NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement from the 1990s.


“We worked hard on this agreement,” Trump said during a signing ceremony at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “It’s been long and hard. We’ve taken a lot of barbs and a little abuse and we got there. It’s great for all of our countries.”

Trump still must win congressional approval for the pact, an uncertain prospect after Democrats took control of the House in the midterm elections. Democrats have traditionally been skeptical of free trade and may be reluctant to hand Trump a political victory heading into the 2020 elections.

But the president was in a celebratory mood in Buenos Aires, with the ceremony giving him an immediate win after arriving at the G-20 harried by negative headlines back home.

Trump has vented his anger over his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen's decision to plead guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, a move that poses great legal and political risks for Trump. Trump posted a pair of tweets Friday morning defending his conduct during the 2016 campaign and blasting the investigation as a“Witch Hunt!”

The president abruptly decided Thursday to cancel a highly anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20, citing tensions with Ukraine. And he faces a critical meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday amid a brewing trade war that has spooked some U.S. businesses.

The new pact with Mexico and Canada to some extent validates Trump's hard-nosed negotiating style on trade, in which he has used tariffs — or the threat of them — to pressure trading partners to the negotiating table to re-work deals he has long condemned as bad for America.

Democrats signaled they plan to closely scrutinize the trade deal, which will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has dictated the terms of free trade in the region for a quarter century. 

“For the new trade agreement to receive a majority support in Congress, — including from members like myself, who have long opposed NAFTA and demanded improvements — it must prove to be a net benefit to middle-class families and working people in our country,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Schumer called the labor and environmental provisions of the deal “too weak.” 

Trump dismissed concerns over the vote count, predicting the agreement will sail through Congress.

“It’s been so well reviewed I don’t expect to have very much of a problem,” he said.

The new agreement has not ended all trade tensions between the three countries. Canadian Prime Minister used the ceremony to demand that the U.S. lift steel and aluminum tariffs that have frayed the relationship between the two nations. 

Trudeau raised General Motors' announcement it plans to lay off thousands of workers in North America, which some have blamed in part on steel tariffs on China.

Before the summit, it was unclear whether Trudeau would even show up to the signing ceremony amid the tariff spat.

Legislatures in all three nations must ratify the new deal, which Trump has dubbed the “United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement,” a process that is likely to last much of next year.

Trump repeatedly took aim at NAFTA during the 2016 campaign, calling it “the worst deal ever,” and threatened to tear it up multiple times after taking office.

The new agreement requires that 75 percent of auto content be manufactured in North America in order for a motor vehicle to receive duty-free treatment, up from 62.5 percent, and says that workers manufacturing them must earn a $16 minimum wage, a provision designed to move more production to the U.S. and Canada.

It also contains a new investor-dispute settlement mechanism and new digital trade provisions, subjects where U.S. officials said the 1994 NAFTA agreement was lacking.

Industry groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, the nation's largest industrial trade association for manufacturers, celebrated Friday's signing of the agreement and called on the Senate to begin reviewing the agreement.

“The signing of the USMCA is a landmark milestone for American manufacturing workers,” NAM's president Jay Timmons said.“Manufacturers need certainty now, not later. With 2 million American jobs dependent on exports to Canada and Mexico, Congress should move expeditiously to review the USMCA before the end of this year.”

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