USMCA

Revisions to the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement Gains Support of Labor and House Democrats

The Trump Administration has sought to replace/update NAFTA as a priority since taking office. The Obama Administration also wanted to update NAFTA but viewed that as doable within the context of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement talks. When the Trump Administration withdrew from the TPP in 2017, updating/revising NAFTA became the preferred approach.

In a post from November 16, 2019, I reviewed the possibility that USMCA, if revisions were made to address Democratic concerns, could be an example of bipartisan trade legislation. See https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/11/16/usmca-a-return-to-bipartisan-trade-legislation/.

For roughly a year, the Trump Administration through USTR Lighthizer and the House Democrats have been pursuing negotiations on changes deemed necessary by the Democrats for the USMCA to be acceptable to them. Enforcement of labor and environment provisions and issues surrounding biologics have been at the core of the concerns being explored. Labor and environmental groups have pressed hard for changes that would address their concerns, and the problems they have experienced under other agreements.

In recent weeks, lead negotiators from Mexico and Canada were in Washington to review changes the Administration was seeking and providing further feedback/reactions to whether such changes were acceptable. A meeting in Mexico City today between the main negotiators is intended to permit agreement on revisions acceptable to the three countries.

Earlier today, the President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, expressed support for the modifications to the USMCA that had been negotiated by the Democratic team with the Trump Administration. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal indicated that the House Democrats believed the revised agreement (as reflected in the modifications negotiated with the Trump Administration) was far superior to both NAFTA and the USMCA that had previously been signed by the governments. Indeed, assuming agreement by the three countries to the revisions this afternoon, USMCA as revised, will be ready for Congressional consideration as early as next week.

While the text of the modifications is not yet public, the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman has released a fact sheet which reviews issues pursued by the Democrats that they perceive have been successfully resolved. The text of the fact sheet is included as a PDF below.

USMCA-win-factsheet-

If the USMCA is revised as expected, the timetable in the Congress will likely be expedited and will be supported by large parts of the business community whether agriculture, manufacturing, services and will include support from labor and other groups.

When the text of the agreed modifications is available, the revisions will be added to the comparison documents provided in the prior post that compare USMCA to NAFTA and the TPP agreement that the U.S. had signed (before withdrawing).

To the extent that the USMCA becomes a model for other agreements going forward, there should be greater likelihood of bipartisan support for future agreements just as has developed for USMCA.

USMCA – A Return to Bipartisan Trade Legislation?

Trade legislation historically was an area of bipartisan agreement. For the last twenty years or so, it has been increasingly difficult to find bipartisan support for trade agreements and implementing legislation. If the consultation process between the Trump Administration and House Democrats results in a set of modifications to the USMCA that garner larger Democratic support, we may be seeing a roadmap for greater bipartisan efforts in the trade arena going forward.

The Democrats have highlighted concerns in four areas – enforcement, labor, environment and pharmaceuticals. Labor (as reflected in the position of the AFL-CIO and its member unions) has felt that prior trade agreements, including NAFTA, resulted in situations where workers have not benefited and have in fact seen economic opportunities shrink. The shrinkage was a result of jobs moving off-shore, with imports into the U.S. from such off-shored facilities ramping up and reducing U.S. employment. Indeed, the possibility of moving to Mexico has been viewed by labor as a constant threat applied by management in many companies to reduce income expectations of workers. NAFTA has not been viewed by labor as helping improve significantly working conditions in Mexico nor the problems of labor rights in Mexico. How to achieve meaningful improvements has been a major concern of labor and many Democrats. For labor, the result of past trade agreements has been a documented stagnation of wages and reduced employment in manufacturing. The concern with North American neighbors has been reinforced by the large and growing trade deficit with Mexico in particular. For labor, agreements that don’t result in actual improvements in the opportunities for workers as well as the companies are simply unacceptable. A race to the bottom on worker rights and environmental protections is not acceptable to labor or to environmental groups.

The Trump Administration introduced certain provisions into the USMCA that were intended to address certain Administration concerns over the trade deficit with our neighbors. The Administration also elevated labor and environment from side letters to integral chapters of the Agreement, an important improvement over NAFTA. While recognizing improvements over prior agreements, Democrats have signaled that some modifications are critical for their support.

USTR Lighthizer and his team have been involved in negotiations with Democratic House members over a number of months. While the specifics of the proposals and counter-proposals are not public, press accounts indicate that resolution of Democratic concerns/demands could be close. Moreover, the Mexican government has been visited by Congressional Democrats, and the President of Mexico has forwarded communications on his commitment to fulfilling Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA labor chapter.

Speaker Pelosi stated at her weekly press conference this past week that “I do believe that if we can get this to the place it needs to be which is imminent, that this can be a template for future trade agreements, a good template.” House members involved in the negotiations agree negotiations are progressing, but have indicated a deal is not yet imminent. https://thehill.com/policy/finance/trade/470580-usmca-deal-close-but-not-imminent-democrats-say. The next few weeks will likely indicate whether agreement can be reached on the four topics being negotiated.

Obviously, the vast majority of the USMCA will not be disturbed by any agreement between the Trump Administration and House Democrats. And any modifications to the agreement or acceptance of additional side agreements, etc., obviously need to be agreed to by Mexico and Canada and result in implementing legislation that is approved by Congress. But without agreement between the Administration and the House Democrats, USMCA implementing legislation will not be taken up by Congress. Thus, agreement between the Administration and House Democrats in the next few weeks is priority number one for the USMCA moving forward.

For those with an active interest in the USMCA and how the agreement, before modifications, compares to the NAFTA or to the Trans Pacific Partnership (as signed by the U.S., but before the U.S. withdrew), I include below side-by-side documents of several chapters (14 on investment, 20 on intellectual property, 23 on labor, 24 on environment, 31 on dispute settlement) and one side letter (on biologics). The side-by-side documents were generated by my firm prior to my retirement. Presumably modifications to the agreements or additional side letters, etc. that are agreed to by the Administration with the House Democrats will key off of the enclosed chapters and side letter.

USMCA-Side-by-Side-Chapter-14-Investment

USMCA-Side-by-Side-Chapter-20-Intellectual-Property-Rights

USMCA-Side-by-Side-Chapter-23-Labor-1

USMCA-Side-by-Side-Chapter-24-Environment

USMCA-Side-by-Side-Chapter-31-Dispute-Settlement

MX-US_Side_Letter_on_Biologics

The U.S. Trade Deficit – Data for First Thirty-Three Months of the Trump Administration (2017-Sept. 2019)

The U.S. trade deficit has been at extraordinarily high levels for many years, having ranged from $766.6 to 818.0.billion/year during 2005-2008 (2nd term of President George W. Bush).  After a sharp contraction in trade during the 2009-2010 period as the country dealt with the great recession flowing from the financial crisis that started in 2008 (with resulting significantly lower trade deficits), trade deficits ran from $689.5 to $745.5 billion/year during the 2011-2016 years of President Obama’s tenure (2016 trade deficit was $735.3 billion).

President Trump has had a significant focus on trade issues during his presidency.  His Administration has attempted to address the chronic trade deficit the country has developed over the last fifty years through improved trade deals, aggressive enforcement of various trade laws and some domestic actions (regulations and taxation).  Despite these actions, the first two years and nine months of the Trump Administration saw a significant expansion of the trade deficit in 2017 ($793.4 billion) and 2018 ($874.8 billion) – an increase by 2018 of 18.97% over 2016 levels) – with a stabilization in the first nine months of 2019 (up 1.43% from the first nine months of 2018 at $647.6 billion).

A growth in the trade deficit during 2017-2019 reflects various causes including:  (1) continued economic growth in the U.S. and slower growth rates in much of the rest of the world; (2) a delay in the trade balance effects flowing from the Administration’s trade actions against China under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and against many countries on steel and aluminum under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962; (3) retaliation by various trading partners for actions taken by the U.S.; and (4) shifts in currency values.

The huge trade deficit with China declined by $38.5 billion or by 12.77% in the first nine months of 2019 reflecting the large tariffs applied by the U.S. on huge parts of Chinese exports to the U.S. which exceeded the contraction in U.S. exports to China flowing from retaliation by the Chinese.  However, there was more than a $47.7 billion increase in the deficit from trade flows with other countries during the first nine months of 2019.  Below are some of the countries with whom the U.S. trade deficit has increased in the first three quarters of 2019 by more than $5.0 billion.  Data reflect the size of the increase in the U.S. trade deficit with the particular country: :

Country or Group of Countries Increase in U.S. Trade Deficit
9 months 2019
Mexico $17.0 billion
European Union (28) $12.0 billion
Vietnam $11.7 billion
Switzerland   $7.3 billion
Taiwan   $6.5 billion
Subtotal $54.5 billion

Vietnam and Taiwan could be in some significant part the result of shifting shipments from China to neighboring countries where Chinese or other producers have investments, where producers have found alternative sourcing or where there has been shipment of products from China which have been mislabeled as to origin.

Similarly, the large increase from Mexico may reflect in part a move back to Mexico or increased sourcing from Mexico for companies previously sourcing from China.    An UNCTAD Research Paper (No. 37) entitled “Trade and trade diversion effects of United States tariffs on China” released recently made similar findings for imports in the first half of 2019.  https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2569.  As noted in the Abstract to the paper (page 1):

“This paper finds that United States tariffs against China have resulted in a reduction in imports of the tariffed products by more than 25 percent. The analysis finds that China’s export losses in the United States have resulted in trade diversion effects to the advantage of Taiwan Province of China, Mexico, the European Union and Viet Nam among others. The analysis also finds that those effects have increased over time. The analysis finds some preliminary evidence that Chinese exporters may have started to bear part of the costs of the tariffs in the form of lower export prices. Overall, the results indicate that the United States tariffs on China are economically hurting both countries. United States losses are largely related to the higher prices for consumers, while China’s losses are related to significant export losses.”

The shift in trade balance for the mentioned countries and for the U.S. as a whole is explained in the following table which shows the change in U.S. total exports and in U.S. general imports during the first nine months of 2019 vs. the same period of 2018:

Country US Exports US Imports US Trade Balanace
China  -$15.2 BN  -$53.0 BN  +$47.7 BN
Mexico    -$4.3 BN +$12.8 BN   -$17.0 BN
European Union (28) +$14.0 BN +$26.0 BN   -$12.0 BN
Vietnam   +$1.0 BN +$12.7 BN   -$11.7 BN
Switzerland    -$4.5 BN   +$2.8 BN     -$7.3 BN
Taiwan   +$0.5 BN   +$7.0 BN     -$6.5 BN
Subtotal (Mex.-
Taiwan)
  +$6.7 BN +$61.3 BN   -$43.5 BN
From all countries =$15.2 BN    -$6.0 BN     -$9.2 BN

Thus, in the first nine months of 2019, US trade with China fell in both directions, with imports from China declining by $53.0 billion and U.S. total exports to China declining $15.2 billion.  Trade with Mexico and Switzerland saw declines in U.S. total exports to each country (-$4.3 billion and -$4.5 billion respectively) while imports from those countries into the U.S. increased (+$12.8 billion and +$2.8 billion).  For the European Union, Vietnam and Taiwan, the U.S. saw total exports increase, but at much slower amounts than the increase in U.S. imports from those countries.  

When looking at the 2-digit HS categories that saw the largest changes in the U.S. trade balance with China in 2019, the three largest improvements in the U.S. trade balance with China were in HS chapters 84, 85 and 94 dealing with nonelectrical equipment, electrical equipment and furniture respectively. The U.S. trade balance with China improved by $17.0 billion, $18.8 billion and $4.0 billion for these three chapters respectively, largely due to contractions in imports from China on those items.  In a prior post (October 13) on the announced likelihood of a first phase U.S.-China agreement, I reviewed the contraction in U.S. exports of agricultural products, particularly soybeans, that happened in 2018 (down $10.2 billion from 2017).  There has been some limited improvement in U.S. exports of soybeans in the first nine months of 2019 and so no agriculture products saw huge declines in exports in 2019 or large reductions in the US trade surplus with China this year.

 Some of the U.S. trade balance improvement vis-à-vis China on these specific manufactured  goods was offset by increased deficits with Mexico ($1.7 billion for Chapter 84, $1.3 billion for Chapter 85), the EU ($6.9 billion for Chapter 84), Taiwan ($4.3 billion for Chapter 84, $1.7 billion for Chapter 85) and Vietnam ($0.5 billion for Chapter 84, $7.6 billion for Chapter 85, $1.3 billion for Chapter 94).

The challenge for any administration attempting to change trade flows is the time it takes to achieve new agreements, to implement specific actions, and to design and obtain approval for new legislation.  Such challenges reflect the state of play for many of the Trump Administration’s trade efforts to date.  Benefits from the initial agreements with Japan signed on October 7 will likely be seen in 2020 if Japan is able to implement the agreements through legislation this month as is reported as possible in the media.  Changes from the USMCA will depend on whether and when Congress takes up implementing legislation.  The Administration is hoping to conclude and sign a first phase trade agreement with China yet this year.  Such an agreement with China will likely result in at least a standstill on tariffs against China and likely some reductions in tariff levels phased in over time based on results of implementation efforts by both sides.  An agreement with China would also improve market conditions for some U.S. products shipped to China, with reported commitments for increased purchases of various U.S. agricultural products as but one example.  Discussions are ongoing with other countries on specific trade concerns, and so additional improvements in market access may yet occur during the current term of President Trump’s Administration. 

Businesses understandably look for predictability in both the trade environment and the rules of engagement with trading partners.  With the heavy focus on revising domestic trade policy and the aggressive use of legislative tools on the books, the Trump Administration’s efforts to date have created a great deal of uncertainty for businesses.  Some businesses have been harmed at least short term, others have benefited from the actions taken by the Administration.  Whether the changes being pursued by the Administration will achieve the objectives sought is an open question.  A review of the changes in trade flows (U.S. imports and U.S. exports) from the Trump Administration’s first thirty-three months in office show that changes towards greater trade balance will not occur quickly nor without a fair amount of disruption to supply chains, business models and companies and many workers.  A more sustainable trade environment is an important objective.  Not since the early 1970s has an Administration been concerned about large and increasing trade deficits.  The Trump Administration has been concerned and has been attempting to change domestic and international trade policy to restore greater balance.  Whether meaningful change will occur is almost certainly a multiple Administration project.  Whether the project will be pursued will depend in part on what is achieved under the current Administration.

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