Trump presses for USMCA passage as Lighthizer, lawmakers prepare to meet

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump and his top advisers on Monday stepped up their drive to win congressional passage of a trade deal with Canada and Mexico, as the administration’s top trade official prepared to meet with Democratic lawmakers again this week.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the third annual "Made in America Product Showcase" on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow lauded the economic and job-creating benefits of the deal, which was signed in November but must be ratified by lawmakers in all three countries.

Kudlow told Fox Business Network he was optimistic the trade agreement could win passage despite a vow by Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, to block the deal until their concerns over environmental, labor and pharmaceutical aspects of the deal are met.

“I’m optimistic that we have a very good chance of getting that through,” Kudlow said, citing the “cooperation and accommodation” of House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi in resolving disagreements.

He said the agreement would add about half a percentage point of economic growth to the U.S. economy, creating several hundred thousand jobs and sparking up to $100 billion in new investments in the United States.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is due to meet with Democratic lawmakers about the agreement again this week, with a focus on environmental issues, said a congressional aide. Lighthizer’s office had no comment on the expected meeting.

Richard Neal, the Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said last week’s meeting with Lighthizer was open, constructive and successful. “We continue to make progress towards a final product that reflects the values of the Democratic Caucus,” he said.

Democrats are pressing for changes to bolster enforcement of labor and environmental provisions of the new agreement that will replace the current North American Free Trade Agreement, but are also seeking to adjust some pharmaceutical provisions.

A senior House Republican leadership aide said Republican lawmakers were disappointed more progress was not made this month on finalizing a deal. “However, this can still get done in September,” the aide said.

Trump, speaking at a White House event, urged Democrats not to block passage of the agreement for political reasons despite what he said was bipartisan support.

“There should be no politics involved,” he said. If Democratic leaders blocked ratification of the deal, he said he had a “better plan” but provided no details.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office had no immediate comment on what the alternative plan could be.

(The story has been refiled to fix misspelling of for in headline)

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason; Writing by Andrea Shalal and Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Cynthia Osterman