US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expected to announce modified North American trade pact

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the revamped US-Mexico-Canada Agreement is a significant improvement over the original North American Free Trade Agreement. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to announce her endorsement of a modified North American trade pact on Tuesday (Dec 10), capping a long set of negotiations and presenting President Donald Trump with a major Capitol Hill win on the very day Democrats are set to announce their impeachment charges against him.

The California Democrat says the revamped US-Mexico-Canada Agreement is a significant improvement over the original North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal have scheduled a news conference on Tuesday morning.

In Mexico City, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said on Monday night that there would be a meeting of the three countries' negotiating teams on Tuesday "to announce the advances achieved" on the trade agreement. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is slated to appear.

The trade negotiations are coming to a close on the same day that Democrats are outlining impeachment charges against Trump. The pact is Trump's top Capitol Hill priority along with funding for his long-sought border fence.

Pelosi is the key congressional force behind the accord, which updates the 25-year-old Nafta accord, which many Democrats - especially from manufacturing areas hit hard by trade-related job losses - have long lambasted.

Pelosi has negotiated with the administration extensively to win stronger enforcement provisions. Her efforts have appeared to build support among Democrats.

"There are those who I read about in one place or another that say, 'why would you give President Trump a victory?'" Pelosi said on Monday night at a Wall Street Journal event for corporate executives. "Well, why wouldn't we? This is the right thing to do for our trade situation, for our workers."

Nafta eliminated most tariffs and other trade barriers involving the United States, Mexico and Canada. Critics, including Trump, labour unions and many Democratic lawmakers, branded the pact a job killer for the United States because it encouraged factories to move south of the border, capitalise on low-wage Mexican workers and ship products back to the US duty free.

Weeks of back-and-forth, closely monitored by Democratic labour allies such as the AFL-CIO, have brought the two sides together. Pelosi is a long-time free trade advocate and supported the original Nafta in 1994. Trump has accused Pelosi of being incapable of passing the agreement because she is too wrapped up in impeachment.

The original Nafta badly divided Democrats but the new pact is more protectionist and labour-friendly, and Pelosi is confident it won't divide the party, though some liberal activists took to social media to carp at the agreement.

"You don't have to have unanimity, you just have to have consensus." Pelosi said. "Once we go down that path we'll be OK."

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