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White House begins clock for USMCA consideration as Democrats maintain concerns

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White House begins clock for USMCA consideration as Democrats maintain concerns

The Trump administration on May 30 took the first step to spur a vote in Congress on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, despite Democrats' remaining concerns about the trade pact.

In a press release, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that the Trump administration sent a draft statement of administrative action on the USMCA to Congress, something she said "is not a positive step."

Sending the statement of administrative action starts the clock for consideration of the USMCA — which would replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement that governs trade in the U.S., Canada and Mexico — giving Democrats 30 days to negotiate the text of the deal before formal legislation is submitted.

"It indicates a lack of knowledge on the part of the administration on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement," Pelosi said.

The House speaker said the action came before Congress has finished working with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to ensure enforcement mechanisms, labor standards and lower prescription drug costs.

In the draft statement sent to Pelosi May 30, Lighthizer said "there is still work to be done," though he cited that as a reason to begin discussions "immediately" on an implementation package. President Donald Trump and the GOP have said that Democrats are holding up consideration of the deal, which must pass both the House and Senate before it can be ratified and implemented.

"We are confident those concerns can be addressed to the satisfaction of the vast majority of members from both parties through the implementing legislation or otherwise," Lighthizer wrote.

The Trump administration's move is the latest in a push by all three countries in recent days to ratify the deal.

Mexico's government planned to send the new North American trade deal to its Senate on May 30, Reuters reported, which comes shortly after the outlet reported that Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland presented a "ways and means motion" to the country's House of Commons, paving the way for the formal introduction of a bill. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the Senate was likely to ratify the deal "soon," according to Reuters.

Vice President Mike Pence was in Ottawa on May 30, where he met with Freeland and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss ratification of the pending trade deal.

Pence tweeted following the meeting that "Congress should pass the USMCA this summer." Congress is due for its annual recess in August.

Several positive developments have surfaced in the past month, including the United States' lifting of tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico, which the two countries and U.S. Republicans and Democrats cited as necessary before a deal could even be considered. Mexico's Senate on April 29 also passed measures to allow for secret union ballot and prohibitions on employers from retaliating against workers for union activity.

Despite these actions that would appear to alleviate U.S. Democrats' concerns, some powerful members of the House Ways and Means Committee warned last week that the deal would not be jammed through without stronger labor enforcement, even suggesting that it be reopened to include such a provision.