11 Michigan lawmakers vote for USMCA trade agreement

Trump-backed deal clears the U.S. House

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The long-awaited update to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took a big step forward on Thursday. 

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s (USMCA) overwhelming passage in the U.S. House came one day after the chamber took the historic vote to impeach President Donald Trump, who was still reeling. Despite his support for the deal, Trump torched U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Twitter.

“The great USMCA Trade Deal (Mexico & Canada) has been sitting on Nancy Pelosi’s desk for 8 months, she doesn’t even know what it says, & today, after passing by a wide margin in the House, Pelosi tried to take credit for it. Labor will vote for Trump. Trade deal is great for USA!” Trump wrote, which did not acknowledge Democratic-backed changes made to the agreement in the last several months.

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The U.S. House of Representatives voted 384-41 to pass the  USMCA, a replacement for NAFTA, first passed in 1994 that cleared the way for the free trade of cars, agriculture and other products between the three countries. 

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote in favor of the deal early next year. 

Among Michigan’s congressional delegation, all six Republicans voted in favor of the passage of the USMCA and five Democrats did. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) voted in opposition, as did two Democrats, U.S. Reps. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit). 

NAFTA has long been blamed as a major driver for diminished American manufacturing — a message Trump hammered home in states like Michigan in 2016. He had touted the USMCA as a necessary update. The new agreement largely makes technical changes to NAFTA, something Amash latched on to in a tweet ahead of his no vote. 

Amash later added that the “USMCA is a worse NAFTA. It increases trade barriers on net and will raise prices on things like motor vehicles.”

Democrats balked at the Trump-back version that was initially proposed. The new version is backed by AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka and includes changes Democrats negotiated with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Pelosi said they strengthen labor and environmental standards and enhances monitoring and inspection processes and removes “corporate gifts” to the pharmaceutical industry that would have harmed consumers.

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However, both Tlaib and Levin, in statements, said the USMCA failed to make enough meaningful changes to NAFTA

“I strongly agree that it is a necessity to renegotiate NAFTA. However, I could not vote for NAFTA 2.0 because it fails to save or bring back American jobs,” Tlaib said. “It also allows the ongoing exploitation of Mexican workers and it is missing the critical environmental protections needed to save the planet from climate change and pollution.”

Levin said earlier this week that he was a no on the USMCA, as the Advance previously reported.

“My Democratic colleagues have worked tirelessly to ensure NAFTA’s replacement leads to positive change. And I thank them for their efforts, which have improved the deal President Trump originally negotiated,” Levin said Thursday. “But these improvements will not be enough to overhaul the entrenched system in Mexico that denies workers their rights, keeps wages unconscionably low and, consequently, incentivizes companies to ship jobs to Mexico—and out of our communities, like mine in Southeast Michigan.”

Despite skeptics like Amash, Levin and Tlaib, the updated trade agreement largely enjoyed bipartisan support once Trump and House Democrats reached an agreement. 

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“Our trade relationship with Mexico and Canada is vital to Michigan workers and businesses, as well as families and farmers across the country,” retiring U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden) said in a statement. “This updated agreement is a victory for all Americans and demonstrates what can be accomplished when Democrats and Republicans put partisan politics aside and work together for the American people.”

Freshman U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) noted that trade with Mexico and Canada accounts for more than 36,000 jobs in her metro Detroit district and that more than $3.6 billion in goods and services were exported to Canada and Mexico from her district in 2017.

“Today, I voted to pass the USMCA, a trade agreement that I worked to strengthen for our middle class and all of Michigan’s manufacturers,” Stevens said in a statement. “This incredible, bipartisan compromise positions Michigan’s 11th District to compete globally and succeed. The agreement is much stronger today than it was when it was unveiled and I look forward to seeing USMCA become law.”

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.