By KEN THOMAS and ROB GILLIES
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Monday celebrated revisions to the North American trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, saying it would help the United States return to being a “manufacturing powerhouse” and vowing to sign the agreement by late November.
But the president noted that the pact would have to be ratified by Congress, a step that could be complicated by the outcome of the fall congressional elections. When told he seemed confident of congressional approval, he said he was “not at all confident” but felt ratification would be granted if lawmakers took the correct action.
“Anything you submit to Congress is trouble no matter what,” Trump said, predicting that Democrats would say, “Trump likes it so we’re not going to approve it.”
Trump embraced the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement during a Rose Garden ceremony, branding the pact the “USMCA.” The president said the name has a “good ring to it,” repeating U-S-M-C-A several times.
The agreement was forged just before a midnight deadline imposed by the U.S. to include Canada in a deal reached with Mexico late in the summer. It would replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has lambasted as a job-wrecking disaster that has hollowed out the country’s industrialized base.
Flanked by Cabinet members, Trump said the agreement is the “most important deal we’ve ever made by far,” covering $1.2 trillion worth of trade. The president said his administration had not yet agreed to lift tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, a matter of much contention between the two neighbors.
For Trump, the agreement, which was reached in the weeks before the November congressional elections, offers vindication for his hardline trade policies. Those policies have roiled relations with China, the European Union and the U.S.’s North American neighbors while causing concerns among Midwest farmers and manufacturers, many of whom are worried about retaliation.
Trump’s advisers view the trade pact as a political winner in the Midwest battleground states that were essential to the president’s victory in 2016 and which are home to tens of thousands of auto workers and manufacturers who could benefit from the changes.
Trump said he would sign the final agreement in late November, in about 60 days, and the pact is expected to be signed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as the outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto before he leaves office on Dec. 1. Trump said he spoke to Trudeau by phone and told reporters that their recent tensions didn’t affect the deal-making. “He’s a professional. I’m a professional,” Trump said, calling it a “fair deal.”
Pena Nieto will be replaced by President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whose administration said the deal would offer more certainty for financial markets, investment and jobs.
Ratifying the deal is likely to stretch into 2019 because once Trump and the leaders from Canada and Mexico sign the agreement, the administration and congressional leaders will need to write legislation to carry out the deal and win adoption by Congress.
Trump threatened to go ahead with a revised NAFTA, with or without Canada. It was unclear, however, whether Trump had authority from Congress to pursue a revised version of NAFTA with only Mexico.
NAFTA tore down most trade barriers between the United States, Canada and Mexico, leading to a surge in trade among them. But Trump and other critics said it encouraged manufacturers to move south of the border to take advantage of low Mexican wages, costing American jobs.