By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Finance Committee overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Tuesday, moving the revamped North American trade deal a step closer to a final Senate vote in the coming days or weeks.
The committee advanced the USMCA implementing legislation by a 25-3 vote, drawing opposition from Republican senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
The timing of a long-delayed final U.S. congressional vote to approve the trade pact remains uncertain, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said its consideration would likely have to wait until after a Senate trial over the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The trade deal, first agreed in October 2018 and revised last month, aims to modernize and broaden the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Trump’s Senate trial is also in limbo, because House Democrats have not yet sent articles of impeachment approved in December to the Senate as the two parties argue over terms of the proceedings.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley earlier told CNBC http://bit.ly/36vNLSN television USMCA would “pass the Senate sometime within the next few days or at the most the end of this month.”
Following the Senate panel’s vote, Grassley said the timing was up to McConnell, but articles of impeachment would take precedence over USMCA. A vote could occur quickly as there was little other legislation to stand in its way, he added.
The Senate’s parliamentarian has directed other some other committees to consider the legislation, which could delay a floor vote slightly, but Grassley said those panels were expected to quickly approve the trade deal.
“The intent is for the leader to get them to move quickly,” Grassley added.
The finance committee’s vote indicates broad bipartisan support for USMCA, which includes new chapters covering digital trade, stronger intellectual property protections and new requirements for automakers to use more parts and materials sourced in the region and from high-wage areas, notably the United States and Canada.
Toomey, an ardent free trade Republican, objected to the new automotive content rules, saying they were “designed to raise the cost to American consumers of buying Mexican-made cars.”
“It’s the first time we are ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement,” Toomey said during the committee’s debate.
Cassidy complained that the agreement weakens NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which will deter big projects such as a gas pipeline from the United States to Mexico.
Whitehouse, an ardent environmentalist, said he objected to USMCA because the trade deal does not mandate any action to fight global warming and rising sea levels.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Brown)