Pence brings trade deal tour to Jacksonville
Jacksonville will get a visit Monday from Vice President Mike Pence as he tries to drum up support for the revamped U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal that’s stuck in limbo while waiting for a vote by Congress with no date on the calendar.
Florida isn’t home to any of the automobile assembly plants that are most closely tied to the three-nation free trade zone, but Florida’s aviation industry is a big player in the North American market and Jacksonville has a share of that aviation manufacturing base.
Mexico is the No. 2 destination for all Florida exports by dollar value, and Canada is No. 3, according to U.S. Census figures. Brazil is the No. 1 nation for Sunshine State exports.
Pence will find a friendly forum for his views when he participates in a round-table discussion that will feature three Republican lawmakers from this area of the state: U.S. representatives John Rutherford, Ted Yoho and Michael Waltz.
But back in Washington, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has given no indications for when it would vote on the trade deal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for more negotiations to tighten enforcement of the deal’s terms before it can come to the House floor for a vote.
Pence plans to use the Jacksonville event and others like it in the coming months to demand a House vote on the pact, which President Donald Trump made a core part of his campaign in 2016 when he roundly criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement that’s been in place since 1994.
“One of the pledges Donald J. Trump made was to get rid of NAFTA and replace it with a better deal and that’s what he’s done,” said Kelly Sadler, spokeswoman for America First Action SuperPac, a fundraising organization for Trump’s 2020 re-election, and America First Policies. “So we look at this as a promise delivered. Now it’s up to Democrats to act.”
The time and location of the event, which is being organized by America First Policies, is yet to be announced. Linda McMahon, who is chairwoman of the political action committee and previously was administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, is among the attendees scheduled to join Pence.
The event is open to the public by logging onto www.americafirstpolicies.org/events/jacksonville-fl for admission on a first-come, first-served basis.
The trade deal, which is called USMCA, won approval by the executive-branch leaders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. But the pact still must win legislative approval in order to replace NAFTA.
Pelosi said earlier this month the deal needs stronger terms when it comes to wages paid to Mexican workers, environmental protections and restraints on increases in pharmaceutical drug prices, according to a May 8 report by the Washington Examiner.
“Unless you have enforcement built in ... it’s not binding on the other country. We’re just talking to ourselves,” Pelosi said.
She said USMCA was “far away” from having the needed enforcement provisions. But the U.S., Canada and Mexico have not shown any interest in reopening negotiations.
Curtis Ellis, a senior policy adviser at America First Policies, said Pelosi’s objections are a “ridiculous argument.”
Ellis, who will moderate the round-table discussion, said the Mexican government recently enacted changes in Mexico’s labor laws.
“They have a very left-wing government in Mexico, and if they’re happy with labor protections, I don’t know why Nancy Pelosi is second-guessing them,” Ellis said. ” ... Nancy Pelosi thinks her job in Congress is to help the Mexican union movement? Her job in Congress is to help America. If that also helps protect Mexicans, great. But President Trump says America first.”
In Jacksonville, aviation companies deciding whether to expand here or in other cities also have looked at Mexico as a site for manufacturing operations.
Ellis said USMCA would remove one of the incentives for choosing Mexico by eliminating a provision in NAFTA that set up an independent dispute settlement system that companies can use instead of going through the Mexican court system.
“One of the absolute advantages America offers investors is rule of law, certainty, respect for property rights,” Ellis said.
He said NAFTA allows companies to do an “end run” around Mexico’s court system, but USMCA eliminates that option and reinforces the advantage of basing a company in the United States.
He said USMCA also eliminates regulations on agricultural products that “do nothing to protect the food consumer, but do protect the Mexican and Canadian farmers from competition from American farmers.”
Ellis said USMCA updates the 1994 treaty by recognizing the wave of changes in digital trade, making it easier for Florida companies to sell their products online to customers in Canada without facing tariffs.
“It’s important for small businesses that are selling through e-commerce,” he said.
Mayor Lenny Curry is slated to help open the event by welcoming Pence to Jacksonville and leading the group in the Pledge of Allegiance.