President Trump signed a revamped trade agreement with Canada and Mexico into law Wednesday, fulfilling his pledge to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement even as he contends with the Senate impeachment trial.
Mexico has ratified the deal, and Canada is expected to formally approve it soon.
Trump was able to win congressional passage of the deal because of substantive changes he made to get support from Democrats and labor unions. But no Democratic lawmakers were present at the signing ceremony.
Two people familiar with talks said that U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer had told lawmakers he wanted to include Democrats at the event but that his efforts to do so were unsuccessful. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations.
Jeffrey Emerson, a spokesman for Lighthizer, said it was “totally false” to claim Lighthizer wanted Democrats at the event, adding: “Ambassador Lighthizer is enormously pleased with the signing ceremony. The media is simply trying to distract from this huge success.”
At the ceremony Wednesday, Trump hailed the “momentous, historic and joyous occasion” and said the deal would prevent outsourcing and keep jobs in the United States. Vice President Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, were among those in attendance. Dozens of Republican lawmakers also attended.
Trump called the original NAFTA a “catastrophe” and said revamping the deal was the reason he ran for president and abandoned the “beautiful, simple life of luxury I lived” as a private businessman and celebrity.
“This is a cutting edge, state-of-the-art agreement that protects and defends the people of our country,” Trump said.
Trump also said the USMCA would increase the U.S. gross domestic product by 1.2 percent. That number is significantly higher than most mainstream estimates, including a U.S. International Trade Commission report in April that found the USMCA would expand the economy by 0.35 percent once it is fully implemented in six years. Trump’s senior advisers have also given a more measured assessment of the eventual impact of the deal.
Bipartisan majorities in Congress approved the trade deal by wide margins, with the package sailing through the Senate, 89 to 10. Democrats touted changes they helped secure in the pact to beef up its labor and environmental protections in months of talks with Lighthizer.
“This is a celebration of what Democrats were able to secure,” Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), a longtime free-trade skeptic who endorsed the deal, said in a media call Wednesday. “We secured positive changes on environmental standards, labor standards and access to medicine.”
It is unclear whether the trade deal will reverse decades of damage to the U.S. industrial sector. U.S. factory payrolls dropped by close to 6 million after NAFTA took effect in 1994 and China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001. The USMCA is likely to add only 50,000 of these jobs, the International Trade Commission has found.
The agreement also scrapped NAFTA’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement system, which gave corporations extensive authority to sue foreign governments, said Lori Wallach, a trade expert at Public Citizen, a left-leaning advocacy organization. “That’s a dramatic change,” Wallach said.
The revised North American trade pact was signed just weeks after Trump signed a partial trade deal with China, and White House officials have said the hardball tactics the president has used to extract changes from U.S. trade partners have proved effective.
The USMCA was supported by the AFL-CIO, one of the largest unions in the country, as well as leading business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable. Other union groups, such as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, opposed it. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union also criticized the agreement for not including “country-of-origin labeling” intended to ensure food safety and prevent foreign companies from skirting food production standards.
Many of the nation’s leading environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, also blasted the agreement as failing to address climate change and helping “corporate polluters.”
The vast majority of the Democratic caucus, as well as most of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, backed the effort. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, voted against the package, citing the opposition of environmental groups and the Machinists Union.
Erica Werner contributed to this report.