WASHINGTON — The presumptive leader of the new Democrat majority on Capitol Hill says she is pressing the U.S. trade representative for better labour and environmental enforcement provisions in the new North American trade pact.
Nancy Pelosi, who is meeting today with trade czar Robert Lighthizer, won't commit to whether Democrats will support the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement until she's confident those mechanisms will be in place.
Pelosi — who insists on calling the agreement NAFTA, despite President Donald Trump's contempt for the deal's old name — also says Democrats want the Mexican government to implement legislation protecting workers and wages in Mexico.
Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto formally signed the new agreement late last month at the outset of G20 meetings in Argentina.
But a number of Democrats, as well as a handful of Republicans, have expressed misgivings about the deal, particularly when it comes to how wage requirements and environmental protections would be enforced.
Under so-called "fast-track" provisions, Congress is limited in its ability to amend the agreement. But it needs to pass legislation implementing the deal, which is where critics expect Democrats to use their new majority in the House of Representatives to press the White House into making changes.
"I've said this again and again — I've said it was a work in progress. I know it's work, I hope it's progress," Pelosi told a news conference.
"It has good features to it, but they don't matter at all if you don't have enforcement — enforcement in terms of the labour provisions, enforcement in terms of the environmental provisions. I think (Lighthizer) full well understands that. That's our conversation."
Mexico has already agreed to pass legislation that would improve union protections for employees, protect migrant workers and address discrimination against women — legislation that Congress won't move forward without, she said.
"We're not there to exploit workers in Mexico or exploit workers in the United States or in Canada," Pelosi said. "That passage of the bill is fundamental to our going forward with that, and that hasn't happened yet."