NAFTA, the USMCA, and Maybe MAGA

The big story on Tuesday was the House judiciary committee drawing up a couple of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, which the House of Representatives is almost certainly to soon vote for, so you might have overlooked the better news for Trump that the Democrats are also going to soon vote for a north American free trade agreement he has been pursuing called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The USMCA is not to be confused with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has long derided as the worst trade deal ever, even if it does basically retain NAFTA’s basic principle of making North America a more or less free trade zone. Not only has Trump rebranded it with more cumbersome initials, this agreement has some of the same modifications that have been made in all the biannual renegotiations since NAFTA was passed, and enough of them are beneficial enough that Trump is boasting it’s the best trade deal ever. The stock markets were all slightly down on the day, but the reviews from the farm and manufacturing and retailing spokespeople and even the mainstream media were all at least lukewarmly positive.
The impeachment articles overshadowed Trump’s accomplishments, though, and the Democrats also got some good press out of the USMCA. They were able to boast that Trump had made some serious concessions to them about environmental protections and labor rights that some prominent congressional Republicans were grousing about, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taunting Trump that “We ate their lunch,” and at the same time demonstrate their willingness to work with Trump on the public’s behalf even as they impeach him.
Both sides deserve some credit for arriving at a deal that least resumes the basic structure of a North American free trade zone that has benefited the entire continent since its inception, and letting America’s farmers and manufacturers and retailers resume business more or less as normal. Neither side will probably make a big deal of it, though, as the deal is not all that great and the credit for it is spread too thin, and this impeachment business will be the bigger story.

— Bud Norman

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