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OTTAWA — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is mounting a new effort to push U.S. lawmakers to bring the new North American trade deal to the floor of Congress for final legal approval by the end of November.

A senior executive with the leading American business group said Tuesday he’s hopeful that Canada’s newly elected government then will also be able to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement somewhere around that time.

The USMCA is in ratification limbo in both the U.S. and Canada thanks to the impeachment drama surrounding President Donald Trump and the campaigning ahead of the Oct. 21 federal election here.

Mexico is the only country to have ratified the three-country agreement.

Chamber president Suzanne Clark sent an open letter Tuesday to members of Congress urging them to push hard in their communities for ratification, saying a “bipartisan consensus is growing” between Democrats and Republicans.

Neil Bradley, the chamber executive vice-president and chief policy officer, told reporters on a conference call that the organization wants to see American ratification by U.S. Thanksgiving on Nov. 28, and that Democrats’ impeachment inquiry doesn’t have to stand in the way.

Bradley called that a “reasonable, achievable deadline” that would restore certainty and confidence to business leaders.

Prior to the Canadian election call, the Trudeau government said it wanted to move “in tandem” with the U.S. on ratification. The new Canadian government — whether it’s Liberal or Conservative — would likely recall Parliament by mid-November.

Both the leading parties support USMCA but Scheer has criticized Trudeau on the campaign trail, saying he caved to Trump at the bargaining table. Trudeau says that the deal was the result of the country pulling together in the face of a tough, protectionist American administration.

“I’m not suggesting a deadline for the Canadian Parliament,” Bradley said.

“I’m confident that we can get it signed and through in the U.S. by Thanksgiving and I suspect based on our conversations with our friends in Canada that whatever their timeline is, we’re not going to be that far apart.”

Democrats want changes to the USMCA, including to its new intellectual-property protections for pharmaceuticals as well as stronger labour and environment provisions. Democrats also want to ensure that there’s an enforceable way to raise labour standards in Mexico so that the jobs of higher-paid American workers are protected.

The Democrats have made progress in their months-old talks with Trump’s trade czar, Robert Lighthizer, to work toward a bill both sides can live with, said Bradley. The Democrats control the House of Representatives and hold the power to introduce a ratification bill there before it would move to the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat who makes the decision on whether to bring forth a ratification bill, said her party’s talks with Lighthizer were moving forward positively.

Dan Ujczo, an Ohio-based trade expert with the law firm Dickinson Wright, said Tuesday that the Democrats and Republicans have almost resolved their differences on the environment and have made progress on the extended patent protection that big pharmaceutical companies got in the new trade pact.

“At the end of the day, this all comes down to if labour will come on-side and provide cover to Speaker Pelosi to advance the bill. Labour will not need to bless the deal, but it cannot burn it,” said Ujczo.

“This would be a Democrat win and alleviate the concerns about giving the president a win while impeachment is in the air.”

But none of that can happen as long as the United Auto Workers continues its strike against General Motors, he said.

“The Democrats cannot advance the USMCA until workers are back to the assembly line and off of the picket lines.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2019.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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