A major issue, they say, is imposing stronger, more enforceable labor standards, in particular those mandating that Mexico do more to allow the creation of independent unions. The AFL-CIO has argued that Mexico can dodge economic penalties if it violates labor measures in the USMCA and Washington does not punish the transgressions.
“The bar for supporting a new NAFTA will be high,” Mr. Neal said this month.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, likely the next speaker, has expressed similar concerns, as has Mr. Pascrell, who is positioned to take over the influential Ways and Means trade subcommittee.
While no key House Democrats have demanded a reopening of negotiations at the highest level, the White House has taken their threats seriously enough to schedule a meeting for the leadership next week with Mr. Lighthizer.
Another significant hurdle recently appeared in the House when 40 members of Mr. Trump’s own party condemned a provision requiring increased workplace protections regarding “sexual orientation and gender identity” issues.
“A trade agreement is no place for the adoption of social policy,” the Republicans said in the letter sent to the White House this month. “It is especially inappropriate and insulting to our sovereignty to needlessly submit to social policies which the United States Congress had so far explicitly refused to accept.”
A revolt of 40 House Republicans against the deal would mean as many as 50 Democrats would be needed to pass it.
A well-oiled relationship
As companies across the world continue studying the hundreds of pages of the USMCA’s legalese, economic factors will continue to drive the agreement’s destiny, former officials say.
“A lot of jobs are riding on this,” Mr. Wayne said. “The prosperity of farmers and companies. Our competitiveness in the world. These are all very much affected by having certainty over a well-oiled relationship between the three countries.”
Some believe the House Democrats will likely come around. While they may be reluctant to hand Mr. Trump an economic victory, they could be more worried about entering the 2020 election cycle being seen as the party that kills job growth and prosperity.
The steel and aluminum tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on Canada and Mexico could also be soon solved, Mr. Gutierrez said.
The tariffs, some say, are among the best cards in Mr. Trump’s negotiating deck, but he will readily surrender them to preserve the overall deal.
Last week, a coalition of 34 business groups, included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Chemistry Council, the National Retail Federation, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, urged the president to do just that.
While backing the updated trade deal, the coalition said the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum have caused significant harm to the U.S. economy.
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