Richard Neal, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives, in Ottawa to push for the ratification of the new North American free trade deal. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

House Democrat Richard Neal talks new NAFTA with Liberals in Ottawa today

OTTAWA — An influential American lawmaker is in Ottawa today for meetings with the Trudeau Liberals on the push to ratify the new North American free trade deal.

Richard Neal, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives ways and means committee, will play a key role in bringing ratification of the new United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement to the floor of Congress for final legal approval.

Only Mexico has ratified the deal, and Canada will only move forward if the U.S. makes the first move.

The agreement was formally signed by the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico almost one year ago.

The Democrats later won a majority in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress, and control the timing of a ratification vote.

For several months the Democrats have been trying to negotiate changes with Donald Trump’s trade czar, Robert Lighthizer, to it’s provisions on labour, environment, patent protection for drugs and enforcement.

Trump foisted the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Canada and the U.S., and threatened to tear up the deal which he has regularly lambasted.

During talks, Canada and the U.S. pushed Mexico to improve its labour standards to prevent companies in the manufacturing and auto sectors from moving there to take advantage of cheap labour.

Now, the Democrats want to make sure those changes have teeth.

Labour Minister Patty Hadju is expected to join an expanded meeting between Neal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to provide an update on how Canada is trying to help Mexico comply with a key USMCA provision — ensuring that measures to improve workers’ rights in Mexico are enforceable, officials say.

Hadju travelled to Mexico this summer to share Canada’s expertise on improving Mexican labour standards, and Neal paid his own visit to Mexico last month.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, expressed optimism last week that congressional Democrats and the Trump administration were close to resolving their differences over the deal — notwithstanding the bitter and noisy Democratic impeachment investigation of the president also happening in the House.

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