Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with Richard E. Neal, Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the United States House of Representatives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Nov. 6, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Senior Democrat discusses North American free trade deal in Ottawa

A senior Democratic legislator met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in Ottawa today to discuss possible changes to a landmark free trade deal between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Richard Neal, chair of the powerful Ways and Means committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, is leading a Congressional delegation consisting of three other legislators: Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia, Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, and Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle.

Canada, the U.S. and Mexico signed the renewed North American free trade pact in November of 2018. Once ratified by the legislatures in all three countries, the Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA as it’s known in Canada) will replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

However, to date only Mexico has ratified the agreement. Canada’s goal remains to move forward with ratification in tandem with the United States, to the extent possible, Freeland said.

“The Prime Minister and the U.S. Representatives reaffirmed the strength of the Canada-United States partnership, and discussed progress being made towards the ratification of the new North American Free Trade Agreement and Canada’s efforts to support labour reforms in Mexico,” said a readout of the meeting released by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“They agreed on the importance of continued strong relations for the benefit of people, jobs, and businesses on both sides of the border.”

Notwithstanding Washington’s ongoing impeachment fight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are still open to voting on the new NAFTA before primary season takes over.

Speaking to the media as he met with Trudeau in Ottawa, Neal said Democrats “want to see this implemented.”

“Renewal is very important to the United States and I can tell you with all certainty that Speaker Pelosi is committed to getting to ‘Yes,’” Neal said.

However, Democrats want assurances that the deal’s stronger labour and environment protections can be enforced, they also seek to strengthen the dispute resolution mechanism and reduce intellectual property protections for the pharmaceutical industry.

“Chairman Neal intends to raise issues related to how the United States, Canada, and Mexico can work together to ensure that a truly improved NAFTA will serve the interests of North American workers, our shared environment, the health of our people, and the competitiveness of our economies,” said a statement issued by the committee on Tuesday.

Neal had similar discussions with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico City in October and the House Democratic Working Group on the new NAFTA continues to discuss the matter with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the statement said.

This puts the Liberal government in a tight spot: on the one hand Trudeau and Freeland have said that they don’t want to reopen the “Pandora’s Box” of making changes to the deal, on the other hand, many of these changes are seen as beneficial to Canada.

With files from Janyce McGregor of CBC News

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