Trump kicks off trade pact ratification, but new tariffs pose obstacle

US President Donald Trump could put the text of the agreement before US lawmakers in 30 days, but the timing of the vote is up to Congress. — Reuters
US President Donald Trump could put the text of the agreement before US lawmakers in 30 days, but the timing of the vote is up to Congress. — Reuters

WASHINGTON, May 31 — Donald Trump yesterday kick-started the process of ratifying the new North American trade pact, but the US president put the accord at risk by announcing tariffs on Mexico over illegal immigration.

Trump could put the text of the agreement before US lawmakers in 30 days, but the timing of the vote is up to Congress.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also submitted the trade pact to their legislatures this week.

The three countries signed the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement in November, to update the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, and Trump this month cleared a major stumbling block to approval by removing contentious US tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminium.

But the US president was quick to erect a new potential barrier to the accord, yesterday announcing “a 5per cent Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.

“The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tried to separate the two issues, telling journalists that: “These are not tariffs as part of a trade dispute, these are tariffs as part of an immigration problem.”

Lopez Obrador wrote a letter to Trump following the announcement, striking a conciliatory tone.

“I express to you that I don’t want confrontation,” he wrote. “I propose deepening our dialogue, to look for other alternatives to the migration problem.”

But earlier, Mexico’s top diplomat for North America had harsher words on the move, describing it as “disastrous” and vowing to respond “vigorously” if it is implemented.

Ratification of the trade accord could meanwhile face opposition from US Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the decision to press ahead on the ratification process, saying it was “not a positive step,” and showed “a lack of knowledge... on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement.”

“We have been on a path to yes, but it must be a path that leads to an agreement that delivers positive results for American workers and farmers,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Trump’s move to push ratification came “before we have finished working with US Trade Representative (Robert) Lighthizer to ensure the USMCA benefits American workers and farmers,” she said.

Thousands of jobs

Lighthizer submitted the “draft Statement of Administrative Action” to congressional leaders, a step required by law before the final treaty can be ratified.

He called it the “gold standard” for US trade policy, that would create “a more level playing field for American businesses, workers and farmers” and “support thousands of new US jobs.”

However, he said the “procedural formality” is not the last step in the process and “does not limit our ability to find solutions to address concerns Members have raised about enforcement of labor and environmental provisions.”

Prior to Trump’s tariff announcement, Lopez Obrador told reporters he was confident the deal would be approved, and hailed the good relations between the North American leaders.

“I am very optimistic and I’m sure it will be approved, even with the differences in the United States,” he said.

In Mexico, the agreement will have to go through three Senate committees, but after that, “a simple majority vote wins approval, so we’re sure it will pass the Senate” and be ratified, Lopez Obrador said.

The deal is crucial for Mexico, which has become a major exporter under Nafta — with 80 per cent of its exports going to the United States. — AFP