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Senate committee approves North American trade deal in bipartisan vote

The Senate Finance Committee passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement by a 25-3 vote, sending the proposed trade deal to the full Senate before it can be taken up and signed by President Donald Trump.

The Senate was previously expected to delay consideration of the deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement until after impeachment proceedings, but a delay on that front has opened a narrow window for the USMCA. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News on Jan. 5 that the bill could be ready for a vote in the full Senate as early as Jan. 10.

It was passed in the Democrat-led House on Dec. 19, marking a bipartisan breakthrough after months of discontent and a holdup over concerns about pharmaceutical provisions, labor rules and enforcement mechanisms.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said there are parts of the bill he still does not like, but that overall it is a "strong agreement" that he can get behind. After numerous meetings at the White House with Trump administration officials, Grassley said, he grew weary of hearing the words "I like tariffs" from the Oval Office.

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Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking member of the committee, said Democratic efforts to strengthen the deal in the aforementioned areas helped him and his colleagues feel comfortable moving the deal forward. Under fast-track rules, the committee was unable to amend the bill Jan. 7.

"When you combine this all-in approach on enforcement with new commitments on labor rights and environment, you shut down the corporate race to the bottom on cheap wages and lax standards," Wyden said. "It's about raising everybody else's standards to ours and taking action when they fall short."

Many U.S. businesses and sector groups have voiced support, pointing to the prospects of revamped trade across North America. The USMCA includes provisions for e-commerce and is expected to boost U.S. farm exports to Mexico and Canada.

Agricultural groups tend to support the bill, in part because, they say, it would provide relief from retaliatory tariffs from Mexico and Canada that have targeted U.S. farm exports. Trump has also touted the deal as one that will incentivize U.S. companies, including those in the auto sector, to produce in the U.S.

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Matt Blunt, president of the American Automotive Policy Council, a trade group, said after the vote that the deal will strengthen the U.S. auto sector and its manufacturing suppliers.

Sen. Pat Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican who has been outspoken against the USMCA due to what he sees as its advancement of protectionist trade policies, was among those Senators who voted against the bill.

The USMCA, which would replace the 26-year-old NAFTA, was first signed by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in November 2018, and the revised agreement was ratified by Mexico in December 2019.