- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2019

The White House took its pitch for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal on the road Monday, hoping to pressure Congress from outside of Washington after President Trump cleared a major hurdle by agreeing to end his aluminum and steel tariffs against the North American neighbors.

Vice President Mike Pence played the role of cheerleader-in-chief for the trilateral deal known as “USMCA,” telling a Florida crowd that Mr. Trump expects Capitol Hill to approve the deal before autumn.

“The president has done his job. It’s time for the Congress do its job and pass the USMCA this summer,” he told a friendly crowd in Jacksonville.

Mr. Pence said the trade deal, which replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, would “level the playing field” for U.S. manufacturers and farmers. It would prevent Canadians from undercutting American dairy farmers on price, ensure that U.S. wheat is graded under the same standards as Canada’s and bar places like China from dumping metals or other products into the U.S. — duty-free — via Canada or Mexico.

“Many of these things were never even addressed in NAFTA,” Mr. Pence said. “Those days are over. We are not going to allow an outdated trade deal to hurt American farmers or American manufacturers any more.”

Monday’s event is the first of several being organized by America First Policies, a nonprofit group formed to promote Mr. Trump’s agenda.

The group plans to hold more events on trade in six large states viewed as critical to Mr. Trump’s reelection chances. It also might target swing lawmakers viewed as critical to passing the deal.

Mr. Trump’s allies began their tour at a naval base in Jacksonville to highlight the national security component of trade deals.

“The military depends on a strong economy — you don’t have the money, you don’t have revenues to support our military,” said Curtis Ellis, senior policy adviser at America First Policies. “On another level, there’s the domestic production of resources of metals — steel, aluminum — and advanced technology. We don’t want to be dependent on foreign countries for that.”

Mr. Trump struck the agreement with Canada and Mexico last fall, and he’s now searching for the votes in Congress to approve it.

Lawmakers in both parties say the deal Friday to cancel aluminum and steel tariffs made it more likely that Congress will act. Powerful Republicans had pointed to the tariffs as an impediment, and U.S. farmers and other industries are relieved they’ll no longer be hit with retaliatory tariffs from America’s two land neighbors.

Yet Democrats, who control the House, say they still have concerns about the underlying deal, so approval is not a slam dunk.

They’re worried about enforcing the new USMCA, and want more assurances that labor standards in Mexico will improve once the deal is implemented. They also want to standardize environmental rules between the countries so that pollution isn’t exported to Mexico, which could harm U.S. border communities.

Mr. Pence told reporters Monday the deal won’t be renegotiated, but his team is working with Democrats on “enabling legislation” to guide how the deal is carried out.

The vice president will travel to Canada on May 30 to discuss the trade deal with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to tout its importance to Parliament members, diplomats and business leaders in Ottawa, the White House said Monday.

Mr. Pence told the Florida crowd to lean on power brokers in Washington, arguing it’s the only way to get the deal across the finish line.

Mr. Trump, who already canceled U.S. participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership, is hoping for a NAFTA rewrite to take into the 2020 election.

America First Policies and its sister group, the America First Action political action committee, see trade as a key motivator in states like Pennsylvania, which is rich in electoral votes and felt cheated by trade deals that — as some voters saw it — put the global economy before U.S. workers.

“This is a major promise that candidate Trump made, when he was running. He said he would fix our broken trade deals, and he would fix NAFTA,” Mr. Ellis said. “He’s delivered on that promise the American people deserve to have this ratified.”

It would also signal unity at a critical juncture. Mr. Trump delayed auto tariffs on the European Union nations and eased tensions with U.S. neighbors, leaving an escalating dispute with China as a big fight on the horizon.

China and the world need to see that the American people, the Congress and the president, stand united on forging trade policies that are fair and balanced and reciprocal,” Mr. Ellis said. “The USMCA is a template agreement.”

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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