Crunch time looms for Trump’s new Nafta

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Signed by Canada, Mexico and the US more than seven months ago, the new Nafta agreement isn’t so new anymore. But it may be close to grabbing the spotlight again.

With the US-China trade war on autopilot, the White House is shifting attention back to Nafta’s replacement — known as the USMCA — and more specifically how to get the pact approved by the Democrat-led House.

Not everyone in the Trump administration agrees on how hard to push.

On one side, Vice President Mike Pence’s staff and others are exasperated with the slow pace at which Democrats are demanding changes and offering solutions. Those officials see one way forward: force a vote on the revamped North American trade pact as soon as this month.

Next Tuesday is the first day Trump can send the USMCA implementing legislation to Congress, starting the clock for lawmakers to take it up.

On the other side, officials including US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer don’t feel a particular urgency to ram a vote through Congress. But his continued patience will require some clear evidence that Democrats are seriously engaged.

Congressional staffers caution that sending the legislation before Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives the green light would only cause delay. She wants to do minor surgery to the agreement before Democrats sign on. Too much stonewalling, though, might provoke Trump to give notice he’s withdrawing the US from the existing Nafta. The US traded more than $1.2trn in goods with its two closest neighbors last year.

Mexico has already ratified the pact, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signaled Canada’s approval process is aligned with Washington’s. So the US political calendar could dictate the next steps. With no end in sight for a deal with China, Trump will want to hail his US-Mexico-Canada-Agreement as a major trade victory as he campaigns for re-election next year.

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