May 27, 2019 3:15 pm
Updated: May 28, 2019 11:48 am

Liberals will table new NAFTA ratification bill within days but key battles remain

In this April 21, 2008 file photo, national flags of the United States, Canada, and Mexico fly in the breeze in New Orleans

AP Photo/Judi Botton

Legislation to ratify the CUSMA/USMCA trade deal will come within days.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland presented a ways and means motion on the bill in the House of Commons on Monday, which signals it will be added imminently to the notice paper and could potentially be tabled as soon as Wednesday.

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But there are still some key challenges facing the government in ratifying the renegotiated NAFTA deal including a ticking parliamentary clock and uncertainty over when, how and if the United States and Mexico will also follow suit with their own ratification.

READ MORE: Here’s what you need to know about CUSMA and digital trade

Members of Parliament are back in Ottawa this week for the start of the final four-week stretch of parliamentary business before things are scheduled to close up for the summer break. That means the bill will face an end-of-session race to get through the chamber over the course of those final four weeks.

If needed though, the government could also choose to extend the sitting or even call members back if it needs to in the event that the Senate, which sits for one week after the House of Commons, were to amend the bill.

WATCH: Freeland speaks after tabling motion to move forward with new NAFTA ratification

However, ratifying the deal will not mean it comes into force.

Until the United States and Mexico also ratify the new NAFTA agreement, the existing terms remain in effect for businesses.

Getting the legislation through Congress has proven to be a challenge though – Democratic lawmakers are demanding changes to the treaty, which has prompted the NDP in Canada to argue the government here should not ratify the deal until the U.S. gets its own house in order.

Mexico has also said it will not ratify the deal until the U.S. does so.

WATCH BELOW: Freeland confident they’ll be able to ratify CUSMA before House rises for summer

Current Congressional politics mean the Democrats hold control of the House of Representatives and their support is required to pass any ratification legislation in that chamber before it can move to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats are arguing for stronger enforcement provisions to improve Mexican labour standards, and have also highlighted concerns over whether provisions on environmental and pharmaceutical regulation do enough to protect consumers.

This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Robert Lighthizer, the chief U.S. trade negotiator on the deal, reportedly agreed to create a series of working groups to try to find ways Democrats and Trump administration officials can address outstanding concerns and move forward on ratification.

READ MORE: Nancy Pelosi says new NAFTA not possible without worker rights in Mexico

Ratification does not mean the terms cannot be changed.

If Congress were to amend their ratification legislation, treaty negotiators between all three NAFTA countries would then need to determine whether Mexico and Canada would be willing to accept the amended legislation and amend any ratification legislation they may have passed already.

Not until all three countries ratify the deal can it go into effect.

WATCH BELOW: Trump says he hopes U.S. Congress will approve USMCA pact quickly

It will not be the first time a significant trade deal speeds through Parliament.

Legislation to ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership became law on Oct. 25, 2018, after roughly four weeks of debate in both the House of Commons and the Senate.

That bill had been introduced on June 14, 2018, but because it was tabled just before the House of Commons rose for summer break last year, it did not begin to actually move through the legislative process until Parliament resumed on Sept.17, 2018.

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