The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee approved a revised North American free trade agreement by voice vote on Tuesday, sending the bill implementing legislation to the full House of Representatives for a vote on Thursday.
The panel approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (called CUSMA) bill one week after senior U.S., Canadian and Mexican officials signed off on revisions to the deal in Mexico City to improve labor enforcement and reduce drug patent protections — changes aimed at winning the support of Democrats.
Mexico, the United States and Canada last week agreed to revised terms for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (CUSMA) to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Congress should easily approve the revised agreement, and increased trade flows will raise U.S. gross domestic product by a third to a full percentage point.
Lighthizer told Fox Business Network that concerns raised by Mexico over the weekend about a Washington’s plan to monitor Mexican labor standards under the deal involved a “misunderstanding” and were now resolved.
Lighthizer said the revamped trade deal had strong support from U.S. farmers, businesses, organized labor and both Republicans and Democrats, adding, “It should pass with a big number.”
He said the agreement would create up to 500,000 new jobs and set a template for future trade deals.
The top U.S. trade negotiator said it had been a “real slog” achieving concurrence on the trade agreement, but it would have real benefits for the U.S., Canadian and Mexican economies.
In addition to boosting manufacturing and agriculture, the trade deal would bring automotive jobs back to the United States, and provisions on the digital economy would set “the absolute gold standard” for digital trade and financial services.
Lighthizer expressed regret that he had been forced to remove provisions that required a 10-year exclusivity period for biologic drugs, but said the decision was needed to appease U.S. Democrats, who feared that would raise prices for some of the priciest drugs on the market.
“Clearly getting rid of the biologic provision was a step backwards, and it was a compromise,” he said. “You know, there are consequences of the Democrats’ control of the House. And that was necessary and I’m sorry about it.”
However, U.S. law still provided 12 years of protection for such drugs, he said.