CULPEPER STAR EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER
As negotiators make final tweaks to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger met with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House on Friday to spur on the effort.
The United States and Mexico have resolved the big sticking points in the new North American trade pact, POLITICO reported Saturday.
That clears the way for a deal to be announced soon, two people close to the talks told the Washington-based news website. If enacted, the USMCA would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect in 1994.
Spanberger was one of six lawmakers, three Democrats and three Republicans representing districts across the country, who met with Pence to discuss the deal.
The bipartisan group sought to “demonstrate that this is incredibly important for House members, regardless of party,” the 7th District representative said in an interview Saturday afternoon. “People at all levels are talking about this issue.”
Spanberger characterized the discussion as a good, productive one.
“I hope that it was valuable for [Pence] to hear directly from House members how we feel and what we’re advocating for, to ensure we’re all marching in the same direction,” she said. “Trade stability is very, very important to my constituents.
“And if I could be part of the effort to move things forward, I certainly wanted to take that opportunity, and be an advocate for the 7th District directly with the vice president toward a trade deal.”
Participants in the conversation reaffirmed that USCMA, as now drafted, is already a big improvement over NAFTA, Spanberger said.
They recognized that USCMA “will be the next-generation foundation for future trade deals,” she said. “This one really is creating the framework. So the desire here is to get it right.”
Virginia exported $4.3 billion of goods to Mexico and Canada in 2018, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Three-quarters went to Canada, and a quarter to Mexico.
Spanberger said she is especially optimistic given recent days’ news reports that the U.S. and Mexico have come to terms on the deal’s outstanding issues.
The biggest sticking point has been how the U.S. and its partners can enforce the agreement’s provisions to strengthen worker’s rights, specifically Mexico, the congresswoman said.
“It’s about leveling the playing field and ensuring American workers have fair competition,” she said.
On Friday, Spanberger issued a statement saying she was encouraged by the status of USCMA negotiations.
“I am heartened by the continued commitment of the U.S. Trade Representative, House negotiators, and the White House to deliver trade stability to American businesses, farms, and workers throughout the country,” the Henrico Democrat said.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Undersecretary for North America Jesús Seade met throughout last week, until late Friday evening, in an attempt to work out the final issues.
This year, Spanberger heard from 7th District business leaders about how the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement could strengthen export opportunities and spur economic growth. So she has urged House and administration negotiators to strike a bargain that aids businesses and workers.
“We need to get this done,” she said in a speech on the House floor shortly before Thanksgiving.
“Trade stability is important to my constituents for a variety of reasons, whether they’re cattlemen in Louisa, dairies in Nottoway County, or farmers and producers everywhere,” Spanberger said in Saturday’s interview.
It is vital to the nation to have agreed-upon trading terms with the nation’s biggest trading partners, Canada and Mexico, she said.
Mexico approved USMCA this year, but U.S. ratification awaits approval by Democratic lawmakers who have concerns over how the deal would enforce its labor and environmental provisions.
Its key provisions would set minimum wages for auto workers in Mexico and guarantee more North American content for cars and trucks made in the three signatory countries, to protect U.S. jobs, according to The Washington Post.
In a May 2019 meeting with Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney, Spanberger advocated for long-term certainty for Virginia businesses trying to boost exports to Canada and Mexico.
She also has focused on limiting the tariffs’ damage to Central Virginia businesses and agricultural producers. In November, she succeeded in pushing House leaders to protect market facilitation payments for Central Virginia farmers. In the spring, she criticized the administration for increasing tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods.
Spanberger serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Agriculture Committee.