Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb, of Mt. Lebanon, said Thursday that he will vote to ratify a reworked trade deal with Canada and Mexico. The congressman joined others in his party, as well as Western Pennsylvania’s Republican members of the House, in adding his support to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.
Lamb said that he was “very pleased” that workers’ unions played a central role in shaping the pact.
“As a result, we ended up with a deal that everybody can live with and in which workers got to fight for themselves,” Lamb said.
Under the pact, Mexican employers would face closer monitoring of labor standards – a critical demand for U.S. labor groups. USMCA also includes higher wage standards for automobile manufacturers and reworked trade provisions for dairy and pharmaceuticals.
Organized labor, a key constituency for Democrats, had opposed an earlier version of the agreement, which the member countries signed onto more than a year ago.
But after months of sometimes contentious negotiations, Democrats and the Trump Administration crafted a deal that won a crucial endorsement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. A federation of unions, the AFL-CIO represents more than 12.5 million workers.
Lamb gave the president’s trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, credit for showing “a real willingness to work with Democrats and with organized labor.”
The new trade pact would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was meant to remove barriers between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Labor unions have long criticized NAFTA for moving U.S. jobs to Mexico, where labor is cheaper.
Lamb said the updated agreement will bring Mexican wages closer to those paid in the U.S., thanks to improved labor standards and stronger enforcement mechanisms, though he acknowledged that some argue the agreement should go farther to prevent employers from moving jobs to Mexico.
“I just don’t think that should get in the way of what is a pretty good deal at this moment,” Lamb said. “So we are moving in the right direction with this deal.”
Lamb said, however, that the government should also create more incentives for companies to keep jobs in the U.S.
Western Pennsylvania’s two Republican congressman, Mike Kelly and Guy Reschenthaler, have also been supportive of USMCA. Local Democratic congressman Mike Doyle, however, is still reviewing the terms of the agreement, according to a spokesperson.
Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, meanwhile, blasted the deal as a “big mistake” that would lead to higher prices for consumers.
But Lamb countered that, by helping to prevent the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico, the trade deal would boost consumer spending within the U.S.
When “money stays at home,” he said, “the local economy is healthier and stronger.”
Of Toomey, an ardent supporter of free trade, Lamb added, “We might just have different goals.”
The House could vote on the trade agreement as early as next week. Lamb said that would demonstrate that Democrats are not preoccupied by their effort to impeach Trump, a cause for which Lamb also announced support on Thursday.
“What many of us have been saying all along is actually true,” Lamb said. “We can carry out our oversight responsibilities at the same time as working together to get things done for the people we represent.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber will not take up legislation to ratify USMCA until after Trump’s likely impeachment trial.