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NAFTA replacement not acceptable in current form, Pelosi reiterates

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says lawmakers cannot take up the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement unless Mexico passes legislation protecting workers' rights.

Democratic Speaker says House won't put USMCA to a vote at least until Mexico passes labour reforms

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the deal must ensure workers in Mexico have the right to organize. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday lawmakers could not take up the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement unless Mexico passes legislation protecting workers' rights.

Speaking in an interview with Politico, Pelosi also cited concerns over enforcement provisions for the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), among other issues.

"No enforcement, no treaty," she told Politico.

The new trade deal has received a cool reception in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives because of its provisions on labor, biologic drugs and other matters.

"The concerns that our members have are workers' rights, the environment and issues related to pharmaceuticals," Pelosi said. "The overarching concern that we have is — even if you have the best language in the world in that [deal], if you don't have enforcement, you ain't got nothin'. … You have to have strong enforcement provisions."

Democratic lawmakers say the deal must ensure workers in Mexico have the right to organize, a step that would require new Mexican labour laws. They believe a major weakness of NAFTA was that it allowed Mexican wages to stagnate.

"When you don't have strong enforcement provisions, you are essentially facilitating the outsourcing of jobs and bad worker protections and undercutting of U.S. workers," Representative Pramila Jayapal said last month.

Pelosi underscored that concern in the Politico interview.

"One of the things that the Mexican government has to do before we can even consider it, is to pass legislation about workers' rights in Mexico," she said.

Mexican officials have expressed hopes of passing labour reform legislation before April 30, when Congress adjourns.

While Pelosi has significant influence, opposition to the deal in its current form is not entirely partisan. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has expressed concerns about the USMCA's sunset expiration date, while Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has said while he thinks the president "has a good agreement," it's a non-starter if the administration continues to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico.

Members of Congress are also expected to wait for more guidance from the International Trade Commission's report on the expected economic impact of USMCA. The report from the U.S. federal agency, delayed a number of weeks due to the partial government shutdown in January, is expected sometime this month.

With files from CBC News

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