Canada moves to ratify North American trade deal ahead of visit by U.S. vice president

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada moved to ratify a new North American Trade deal by formally presenting it to parliament on Wednesday, less than 24 hours ahead of a visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

FILE PHOTO: The flags of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are seen on a lectern before a joint news conference on the closing of the seventh round of NAFTA talks in Mexico City, Mexico March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presented the bill to the House of Commons, confirming a Reuters story from Tuesday that said the legislation would officially be offered up to parliament on Wednesday.

Canada, Mexico and the United States signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in November 2018.

However, the deal, which would replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has yet to be ratified by any of the three countries. Canada is the first member country to move toward ratification.

“The new NAFTA will secure access to a trading zone that accounts for more than a quarter of the global economy,” Trudeau said. “It is now time for the members of this House to ratify it.”

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada will press ahead with its ratification plans in tandem with the United States.

With Canadian voters set to head to the polls in October for a national election and the U.S. presidential election in 2020, time is running short. Canada’s parliament is scheduled to start its summer recess on June 21 and is not expected to sit again until November, after the general election.

The trade deal faces a tricky path in the United States ahead of presidential and congressional elections next year. Some lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives have said it needs stronger enforcement provisions for new labor and environmental standards.

President Donald Trump said last week that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- who will control when any initial vote on the plan takes place -- does not understand the deal.

Pence -- Trump’s point person for getting the deal through the U.S. Congress -- is scheduled to meet with Trudeau on Thursday to discuss USMCA ratification and other issues.

Pence has been traveling through U.S. states dependent on trade with Canada and Mexico to make the case for the deal.

“We’re calling on Congress to bring this up for a vote,” a senior U.S. official told reporters, previewing Pence’s Ottawa visit -- the first time the vice president has traveled to Canada in an official capacity.

Pence’s visit also comes after the United States agreed to remove tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum products earlier this month, ending a year-long dispute.

Canadian officials had said Canada probably would not pass the pending trade pact until the tariffs had been lifted.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said on Wednesday his party will “reluctantly support” the new trade pact in the House, but criticized Trudeau for caving to U.S. demands.

“The prime minister had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to negotiate a better deal -- and he failed,” Scheer said. “He gave (U.S. President) Donald Trump everything he wanted and more.”

The Conservative Party of Canada would “work to mitigate the damage this deal has done” if elected in October, he added.

A May 28 poll by Nanos Research had the Conservatives leading with 35% of the popular vote and the Liberals in second place with 29%.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Sandra Maler