Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry into the president of the United States means that issue will likely dominate discussion in Washington for months. That’s a shame, because there are so many pressing matters for Congress that are much more consequential to the everyday lives of Americans.
One of the most urgent is the modernized trade agreement with our neighbors to the north and the south, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). With election year politics upon us, time isn’t on our side. But the window of opportunity hasn’t closed yet. Democrats must act now on upgrading the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or risk putting politics before policy.
The historical benefits of increased trade
In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower requested Congress approve legislation to expand trade with foreign nations. He told Congress that trade “strengthens our friends and increases their desire to be friends,” all while improving the opportunities for our own businesses and workers. Ike was right. From 1950 to 2016, trade expansion increased U.S. GDP by $2.1 trillion — that’s more than $18,000 per household. Today, it’s President Donald Trump who is asking Congress to expand trade with two of our closest friends, Canada and Mexico, by approving the USMCA. Congress’s answer must be the same as it’s been for more than six decades: Let’s get it done.
Critics of NAFTA have rightly argued that the old agreement is outdated. NAFTA lacked enforceable environmental protections or labor rights, which allowed Mexico to out-compete us in many areas by producing more cheaply. The deal failed to anticipate how China’s massively-subsidized, state-owned enterprises would distort the global economy. And it was drafted in a pre-digital era when we watched movies on VHS tapes, listened to music on Walkmans and took pictures with film cameras. NAFTA simply hasn’t kept up with American innovation.
USMCA addresses each of these issues and more. Its enforceable labor and environment chapters include commitments to drive higher wages by requiring that 40-45% of auto content be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour, protections against employment discrimination, rules to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and increased cooperation to tackle air pollution. USMCA also requires all three countries to confront state-owned enterprises and ensure products enjoying USMCA benefits are actually made in North America — not China.
There’s an ambitious digital trade chapter that prohibits restrictions on the flow of data across borders, a practice China and Russia rely on to get ahead of us. We have provisions that prohibit the theft of trade secrets and reward American innovators. Farmers are also gaining better access to Canada’s dairy market than under NAFTA. In other words, Americans of all stripes are going to find it easier to sell their products to consumers in Canada and Mexico and compete on a level playing field. These improvements mean thousands of new jobs and higher wages for American workers. Time to stop stalling.
USMCA reflects the best of American leadership when it comes to trade. At a moment when China is arguing that the world should allow it to continue to distort trade through its state-run “businesses,” the United States is affirming the vital importance to our economy and way of life through fair trade, competition, free enterprise and the rule of law. Congress must not sit idly by, delaying Americans the many benefits of the updated trade agreement.
We were heartened to hear Speaker Pelosi and other leading House Democrats recently say that impeachment politics won’t get in the way of legislative action. We hope that’s true, but their actions will speak louder than words. President Trump and the leaders of Canada and Mexico signed USMCA nearly a year ago, but we are still waiting on House Democrats.
In fact, since President Trump’s inauguration, Democrats have seemed more determined to undermine him than help the American people. If Democrats fail to bring the trade deal up for a vote, that would say all anyone needs to know about their true motives.
The clock is ticking, and Americans are waiting for Congress to pass USMCA so they can reap the benefits of an agreement well-negotiated by the president.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) is the senior Republican of the House Ways and Means Committee. Follow them on Twitter: @ChuckGrassley and @RepKevinBrady