Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey was one of just three U.S. Senators to oppose a major new trade deal in a Senate committee meeting Tuesday. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement would overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement, and on Tuesday the Senate finance committee voted 25-3 to send it to the full chamber.
An ardent supporter of free trade, Toomey noted that the 25-year-old NAFTA “needed modernization” to account for the rise of the digital economy.
“But that’s not the real reason that this agreement was renegotiated,” Toomey said at Tuesday’s committee meeting. “The real reason was because we have a trade deficit with Mexico, and the [Trump] Administration deemed that to be unacceptable.”
USMCA easily passed the Democratic-controlled House in December, but only after the White House agreed to make key concessions.
Under the reworked deal, for example, Mexican employers would face closer monitoring of labor standards – a critical demand for U.S. labor groups, which represent a core constituency for Democrats. The proposal also includes higher wage standards for automobile manufacturers and drops protections for some high-cost pharmaceuticals.
Toomey criticized such measures as being “designed to restrict trade and investment,” and predicted, “we’ll get no economic growth out of this.”
Organized labor, however, has long criticized USMCA’s predecessor, NAFTA, for encouraging the transfer of U.S. jobs to Mexico, where labor is cheaper.
Union leaders spent months negotiating with the Trump Administration before agreeing in December to back a reworked version of USMCA.
The House voted 385-41 in December to approve the proposal. Western Pennsylvania’s Republican congressmen, Mike Kelly and Guy Reschenthaler, joined local Democratic U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle and Conor Lamb in backing USMCA.
The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to finalize the deal in the coming weeks.