Lighthizer promises to satisfy USMCA concerns with U.S. law
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer promised House Democrats that he would work to satisfy their concerns about enforcement and other issues with the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, but avoided saying whether he would ask Canada and Mexico to make additional commitments.
Near the end of a three and one half hour hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., who also sits on the House Agriculture Committee, said he appreciated the “improvements” in the USMCA compared with the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, including the sanitary and phytosanitary and biotechnology provisions and a provision that Canada cannot discriminate against U.S. wine.
Panetta also praised the labor and environmental chapters and asked Lighthizer, “Should those changes require additional commitments from trading partners, will you take those requests to Canada and Mexico?”
Lighthizer responded to Panetta, as he had to other members of the committee, that the USMCA makes “enormous improvements” to NAFTA, and said that at some points members would have to decide whether they prefer the improved agreement or the old NAFTA.
Lighthizer, who had earlier said he does not think it will be necessary to change the text of the agreement, added that when he reaches a final agreement with the advisory group that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has set up, “I think most of this can be done by changing U.S. law.”
In an interview after the hearing, Panetta said Lighthizer will probably have to do “an annex” or a “side deal” to make sure the agreement is enforced.
Lighthizer came under a lot of pressure to give the House time to consider the measure and to educate members who are in their first term.
“We need assurances from you that you give us the space and the time,” Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the Ways and Means chairman said.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., reminded Lighthizer that there are more than 100 members who were elected last year and more that have never had a recorded vote on a trade agreement.
“We hear you — there is an urgency,” Gomez said but “if it’s rushed it can fall apart.”
Lighthizer said several times that the bill has been public for nine months and said he would “push back on the idea we are rushing.” He also said he is eager to sit down with Pelosi’s committee and work out the details of what is need to reassure House members to gain approval.
When Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., asked him how he would make sure Canada complies with the provision not to discriminate against U.S. wine, Lighthizer said he would “fly up there” to make sure.
When Thompson suggested he make that trip in September, Lighthizer said “there is nothing better than white Napa wine in July,” preferably a sauvignon blanc.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said he was disappointed that the final agreement does not contain a provision to relieve Florida tomato growers from seasonal import surges. Lighthizer said he included a regional produce proposal, but that “Mexico could not agree” to it.
Current laws are not set up for seasonal products because they deal with imports “over time,” Lighthzier said, adding “we need to find some way to help” the Florida growers.
Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., told Lighthizer that he sees “fear in the eyes of the farmers” due to the loss of export markets.
“Speed is of the essence” in resolving the trade conflict with China, Kind said.
“The president is hoping to carry Wisconsin next year,” Kind said. “This is the worst way to go about it. Farmers are getting wiped out.”
Lighthizer said he can only speculate about why the negotiations with the Chinese fell apart. The Chinese trade negotiators are professionals, Lighthizer said, but other officials may have decided they had gone too far in the agreement.
On China, “the issues haven’t changed. They are the same,” and Trump is not going to finalize an agreement that does not deal with technology and agriculture, he said.
“Hopefully the politics over there will line up in a way to allow that to happen,” he added.
Lighthizer said he hopes to reach an agreement with Japan to put the American farmers in the same position as the farmers in the Trans Pacific Partnership and European Union countries that now have an advantage.
“The president has directed me to get on this,” Lighthizer said, adding he hopes to meet with his Japanese counterpart on the sidelines of the upcoming G-20 meetings.
“If we don’t, these farmers are going to lose that market because of nothing they did, because the Japanese reached these other agreements,” he concluded.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., told Lighthizer that the administration did not consult with Congress about imposing tariffs and said companies in her district are suffering.
Murphy also raised an indirect criticism of the aid that farmers have gotten through the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corporation.
Murphy asked why some industries get assistance and others do not.
“You must understand the economic and social costs in our industries,” she said.