June 19, 2019 / 8:03 PM / a month ago

Mexico first to ratify USMCA trade deal, Trump presses U.S. Congress to do same

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico on Wednesday became the first country to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) agreed late last year to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the behest of U.S. President Donald Trump.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By a vote of 114 in favor to 4 against, Mexico’s Senate backed the deal tortuously negotiated between 2017 and 2018 after Trump repeatedly threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if he could not get a better trade agreement for the United States.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had already anticipated ratification this week in the Senate, where his leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and its allies have a comfortable majority in the 128-member chamber.

There has been little parliamentary opposition in Mexico to trying to safeguard market access to United States, by far Mexico’s top export destination, and the trade deal was approved with overwhelming cross-party support in the Senate.

Mexico sends around 80% of its exports to the United States, and Trump last month vowed to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods if Lopez Obrador does not reduce the flow of U.S.-bound illegal immigration from Central America.

Lopez Obrador says he wants to avoid conflict with Trump, but noted at the weekend that the tariff dispute showed Mexico needed to become more economically self-sufficient.

Trump congratulated Lopez Obrador on Twitter for Mexico’s approval. “Time for Congress to do the same here!” he wrote.

Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, posted a video on Twitter in which he called the Senate’s approval “very good news” and said it augured well for Mexico’s relations with the United States.

Canada, which has also fought with Trump over trade, is pressing ahead to ratify the deal. The main question mark hanging over its ratification is in the United States, where Democratic lawmakers have threatened to block the process.

Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he believed Democrats’ concerns on enforcing labor and environmental provisions in USMCA can be sorted out quickly. He spoke just hours after Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she still has many concerns over USMCA.

Trump, who had excoriated the 25-year-old NAFTA as a "disaster" for U.S. workers, wants to claim a first major trade deal victory as the campaign for the 2020 presidential election begins. The Republican formally here opened his re-election campaign in Florida on Tuesday and two dozen Democrats are competing for the party's nomination to run against Trump.

Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexico’s previous president Enrique Pena Nieto signed USMCA on Nov. 30, 2018 after months of often acrimonious talks stretching back to the American president’s first few days in office.

Lopez Obrador took office on Dec. 1, 2018.

Three of the four Mexican votes against the deal came from MORENA senators, as did one abstention. The other vote against the deal was from an independent senator, while two members of the center-right National Action Party (PAN) also abstained.

Seven senators were not present for the vote.

Additional reporting by Sharay Angulo in Mexico City and Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Tom Brown and Grant McCool

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