Blumenauer, Bonamici among House Democrats who negotiated revised trade deal
Two Oregon Democrats whose districts depend on international trade ended up on the group of nine that negotiated the latest North American trade agreement, which cleared the House last week.
U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici were among those named by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a working group on the agreement, which was amended to deal with concerns House Democrats raised on labor and environmental standards, drug pricing and enforcement provisions.
The 385-41 vote on Dec. 19 sends the amended U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement in HR 5430 to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it would be taken up early next year. Its timing will hinge on a Senate trial of President Donald Trump, who the House voted to impeach the previous day. Trump also counts the new agreement as a political win for him.
Four of five Oregon representatives voted for the bill, which passed with 193 Democratic votes and 192 Republican votes. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, was among those opposed.
Based on value of state exports, Canada was Oregon's second largest trading partner in 2018 with $3.2 billion in goods — China was No. 1 — and Mexico was 10th at $464 million.
Blumenauer, who has been in Congress since 1996, leads a trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, which deals with tax and trade legislation. Bonamici, who has been in Congress since 2012, sits on the Science, Space and Technology Committee and the House select committee on climate change, and is co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus.
Blumenauer represents most of Multnomah County and part of Clackamas County. Bonamici represents part of Multnomah County west of the Willamette River, plus Washington, Columbia, Clatsop and Yamhill counties.
Pelosi mentioned both at the Dec. 10 unveiling of House Democrats' agreement with the U.S. trade representative for the revised three-nation agreement, which will replace the 1993 North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that took effect after a 1994 vote by Congress.
In a statement timed with the Dec. 19 vote, Bonamici said this:
"Under the direction of Speaker Pelosi, we had many in-person meetings and conversations in which we pressed the administration to make critical improvements in the areas of labor, environment, access to medicines, and enforcement. After a protracted battle with the administration, we secured what I am confident will be meaningful improvements in all four areas."
Blumenauer also released a statement:
"This was an unprecedented vote for an unprecedented trade agreement. This agreement got more Democratic votes than Republican votes, and we were able to thwart the efforts of big drug companies for the first time ever in a trade agreement. This should be a sign that the days of giving Big Pharma sweetheart deals are over. Protecting our workers and environment, addressing climate change, and putting people ahead of profit will be at the center of all new trade agreements as long as Democrats are in charge."
In a joint statement Dec. 13 with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden — the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, which also considers tax and trade legislation — endorsed what the House Democratic negotiators came up with.
"I have long said NAFTA was in desperate need of an update to ensure Canada and Mexico live up to their side of the deal. The agreement Speaker Pelosi secured does exactly that. The many improvements include a new rapid-response mechanism for labor enforcement that Senator Brown and I advocated for that establishes the strongest enforcement of labor standards ever written into a U.S. trade agreement. By ensuring that Mexican workers' rights are protected, we prevent a race to the bottom and level the playing field for workers in Oregon, Ohio and across the country."
For the full statement by Rep. Bonamici, see below:
The complete statement by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., on Dec. 19:
"For the past six months, I have worked tirelessly as a member of a nine-person working group to negotiate a United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that is a marked improvement over both the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the original proposed agreement the Trump administration presented to Congress. Under the direction of Speaker Pelosi, we had many in-person meetings and conversations in which we pressed the administration to make critical improvements in the areas of labor, environment, access to medicines, and enforcement. After a protracted battle with the administration, we secured what I am confident will be meaningful improvements in all four areas.
"NAFTA went into effect in 1994. In the years that followed, we saw outsourcing of jobs to Mexico that undermined the American workforce and did not raise wages or working conditions for Mexican workers. The renegotiated USMCA strengthens the labor rules so it will be easier to prove violations. It also includes robust monitoring systems and strong enforcement tools, including United States attachés on the ground in Mexico to conduct inspections and ensure compliance with the agreement. Throughout this negotiation we worked closely with the labor movement, and because of our joint efforts, the deal is strong enough to have earned the support of the AFL-CIO.
"The USMCA that the Trump administration presented to Congress included harmful provisions that would have locked in high drug prices and made it more difficult for patients to access affordable generic drugs. After months of tough negotiations with the Administration, we were able to remove those sections of the agreement. The updated USMCA no longer requires the three countries to provide ten years of competition-free protection for biologics, stops patent evergreening that keeps generics off the market, removes a requirement allowing for an additional period of exclusivity for certain drugs, and makes additional changes to protect patients. This was a big win for patients, and this agreement is another important step to making sure that we are doing all we can to make medication affordable and accessible.
"Throughout this negotiation, my colleagues and I fought hard to improve the environment provisions in the agreement and worked to strengthen rules and increase monitoring and enforcement tools. Since coming to Congress I have devoted myself to protecting the environment and combating climate change. As the co-chair of theÂ HouseÂ Oceans Caucus andÂ Congressional Estuary Caucus, and a member of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, I have repeatedlyÂ fought to advance environmental protections andÂ pushÂ back against an Administration that refuses to acknowledge the existence much less the urgency of the climate crisis.
"Even with the administration's intransigence, the final deal includes improved environmental rules within the actual agreement. It also creates a customs verification process to combat illegally taken flora and fauna,Â suppliesÂ enhanced environmental infrastructure,Â provides a path to addressing HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) emissions,Â includes protections against overfishing, makes it easier to prove violations of the environment provisions, andÂ securesÂ more than $600 million in resources to implement the environment provisions and address pollution and marine debris. Despite our ongoing insistence throughout the negotiations, the Trump administration refused to include the Paris Climate Accord among the list of the USMCA's multilateral environment agreements (MEAs) that must be adopted, implemented, and maintained. We did, however, include a provision that allows the parties to add other environmental and conservation agreements to the list of covered MEAs.
"This agreement is a vast improvement over both NAFTA and what the administration first sent to Congress. Recently I stood with Speaker Pelosi and several colleagues at the UN's Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to show the world thatÂ the House of Representatives passed the Climate Action Now Act and is willing to uphold the U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement.Â Regardless of the Trump administration's climate denial, I recognize the gravity of the crisis our planet is facing andÂ will continue to do all I can to pass and implement bold policies to combat climate change. The Administration's failure to act on climate and ongoing denial of science poses a grave threat to our economy, way of life, and ultimately our planet.Â
"I am confident in the critical improvements over both NAFTA and the USMCA agreement as first presented to Congress last year. This agreement is better for Oregonians, workers, and the environment than the NAFTA rules that are currently in place. I will support the improved USMCA when it comes to the House floor for a vote."
(The House vote Dec. 19 was 385-41 for passage.)
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.