July 17, 2019 / 4:36 PM / a month ago

U.S. Democrat urges USTR to respond to proposals on U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee’s Democratic chairman on Wednesday urged U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to respond constructively to Democrats’ proposals to ensure their support for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testifies before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on "The President's 2019 Trade Policy Agenda and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Committee Chairman Richard Neal issued a statement after a group of Democrats met with Lighthizer to discuss environmental concerns, reflecting apparent frustration about the Trump administration’s failure to respond to the Democratic proposals.

“The group has now laid out comprehensive concerns and constructive proposals in three of the four issue areas in its negotiating mandate: access to medicines, labor, and the environment,” he said.

“We look forward to similarly comprehensive and constructive responses from Ambassador Lighthizer. Progress will only come from each side working to meet the other.”

The leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico have all signed the agreement, which will replace the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but it must be ratified by each country’s legislature to go into effect.

Mexico was the first country to ratify the trade deal in June, but the deal has hit roadblocks in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats have threatened to block passage until their concerns about environmental, labor and pharmaceutical aspects of the agreement are addressed.

Neal heads a working group that is meeting regularly with Lighthizer to discuss those issues.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet said when she will bring the agreement to a vote on the House floor. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow has said Lighthizer will wait to submit the formal paperwork for ratification until Pelosi gives him the go-ahead.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in an interview with Fox Business Network on Wednesday that “it would be a real dereliction of duty” if Pelosi did not agree to a floor vote.

Neal said he expected to meet with Lighthizer again next week to address Democrats’ concerns on enforcement of the agreement. He said they would also work with the U.S. trade representative to map out a “continuing and robust process” for building on current progress as the process continued next month.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jonas Ekblom; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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