President Trump on Wednesday signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, celebrating a signature legislative accomplishment on trade.
“Today, we are finally ending the NAFTA nightmare and signing into law the brand new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” Trump said in remarks Wednesday morning.
“The USMCA is the largest, fairest, most balanced and modern trade agreement ever achieved. There’s never been anything like it.”
With the signing of the legislation, Trump has followed through on a campaign promise of replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he ridiculed as the “worst” trade deal throughout his 2016 campaign for the White House.
The agreement has already been approved in Mexico and is pending ratification in Canada.
A number of Republican lawmakers attended the signing event, and Trump took time at the top of his remarks to recognize several by name, including Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
Trump joked that it would take him three hours to name everyone present for the event.
But there was a notable absence of some of the key House Democrats who were instrumental in negotiating with the Trump administration on the final agreement on the deal and securing its passage on the House floor with broad bipartisan support.
No Democrats were on the list of attendees sent out by the White House. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who helmed the negotiations, obliquely referenced the top Democrats he negotiated with for months, but left them unnamed.
“I’ve been in town long enough to know that listing members at a time like this makes more enemies than friends,” he said.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, hit Trump for leaving Democrats out of the signing ceremony.
"Perhaps we were not invited to today’s event on the South Lawn because our presence would be a prominent reminder of our critical leadership in achieving this deal," he said.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment on whether any Democrats were invited to the ceremony.
In a morning press conference with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Capitol Hill, Neal highlighted the significant changes Democrats were able to incorporate into the deal, which earned it the support of major unions such as the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters.
“Anyone who thinks that the president’s proposal as originally submitted would have gotten out of the Ways and Means Committee, that’s nonsense,” he added. More Democrats voted for the bipartisan deal in the House than Republicans by a margin of one vote, he noted.
The deal will put in place new rules for digital trade, require higher Mexican minimum wages in certain sectors and reduce barriers to certain agricultural trade. Republicans estimate that it will add .03 to .04 percent to gross domestic product growth and create 176,000 new jobs.
Business groups greeted the agreement enthusiastically.
“We believe this agreement will bring continued decades of economic prosperity that will benefit American consumers and the millions of U.S. workers whose jobs depend on the free flow of trade with our nation’s two closest trading partners,” said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation.
The U.S., Canada and Mexico reached an original agreement in December 2018, but it took more than a year of negotiations with Congress for the administration and lawmakers to reach an agreement that would pass. Trump and Vice President Pence, who also delivered remarks on Wednesday, repeatedly and publicly urged Congress to pass the USMCA legislation throughout 2019.
Democrats on Wednesday morning took credit for fixing the original version of the deal that Trump had presented, saying that it was a “broken trade deal” and playing up their wins in their yearlong negotiation with the administration.
“The Trump administration sent us a broken trade deal,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), pointing specifically to a provision in the original deal that would have allowed pharmaceutical companies to hold exclusivity on biologics for a decade, which would keep prices higher.
Democrats also pointed to stronger enforcement mechanisms, labor standards and environmental standards that were added to the final version of the deal.
“The first draft that we saw didn’t take care of many of the problems we were worried about,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).
“We fought hard to improve the original deal because what the Trump administration originally proposed wasn’t sufficient,” she added.
Pelosi has called the deal a template for future deals, but other Democrats said they wanted further provisions in future deals that would place limitations on technology companies and tackle climate change.
“The renegotiated NAFTA is a floor, it is not a template,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). “Our victory was a victory of reducing harm, both from the original NAFTA and deal the president negotiated.”
Canada kicked off the process of ratifying the agreement this week but may face obstacles, as the opposition Conservative Party has raised some concerns about the deal.
The signing of the trade agreement served as counterprogramming of sorts from his impeachment trial in the Senate, which has been ongoing for more than a week.
The president’s impeachment and his marquee trade agreement have moved almost in lockstep, underscoring the highs and lows of Trump’s first term.
Pelosi unveiled on Dec. 10 a deal with Trump on USMCA changes just an hour after announcing that the House would vote on articles of impeachment. The House passed those articles of impeachment on the night of Dec. 18, then passed the USMCA the following morning for its final vote of 2019.
And a squabble between Pelosi and Senate Republicans over impeachment procedure delayed Trump’s trial long enough for the Senate to pass the USMCA just hours before beginning the impeachment hearings.
Trump’s defense team on Tuesday concluded its opening arguments against charges approved by the Democratic-controlled House accusing the president of abusing his power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstructing the congressional inquiry into those dealings.
The trial will resume Wednesday afternoon as the chamber moves to a 16-hour period when they have the opportunity to ask questions of the House impeachment managers and the president’s legal team.
Trump and his lawyers have sought a swift end to the trial, maintaining that the president did nothing wrong and that House Democrats impeached him for political reasons.
Trump only briefly mentioned impeachment at Wednesday’s event, with a passing reference to the trial at the beginning of his remarks as he recognized senators who were present for being instrumental in the USMCA negotiations.
“Maybe I’m just being nice to them cause I want their vote,” the president quipped.
Trump also joked that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was eager to leave the ceremony because he wanted to ask questions of the two sides in the trial.