AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Democratic U.S. Representatives voted against the revised North American trade pact, saying the proposed law does not have enough enforcement and protection provisions to make a difference in Maine.
Their votes put them at odds with leaders in both parties, as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement has support from both President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. It’s also backed by powerful interest groups like the AFL-CIO union and the American Farm Bureau Federation, although a national machinist union that represents the biggest union at Bath Iron Works opposes it. It passed the House in a landslide 381 to 41 vote, with 38 of the nays being Democrats.
The deal has been in the works all year, and Maine’s delegation was skeptical of the pact last week, before the details of the trade were released. Both Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree said on Thursday the deal wouldn’t do enough to bring jobs back or restore Maine jobs lost in NAFTA.
Business interests have said trade-related jobs increased here since 1992, but a 2003 study for the Maine Legislature found that the state may have lost 800 manufacturing jobs as a result. A nonpartisan advocacy group put Maine’s job loss from NAFTA at 24,000.
“The American people are going to be told by the president and by Washington that this is going to bring jobs back,” Golden said Thursday. “They’re going to be told this is going to stop jobs from being outsourced and my big fear is that 10 years down the road, people are going to look back … and say that wasn’t the case, we didn’t deliver.”
In particular, Golden said the law’s labeling requirements would not be enough to keep international companies from misbranding products, putting Maine’s businesses at a disadvantage. He was skeptical it would be enforced sufficiently to protect workers, saying “we have a bad track record” in doing so with other trade deals.
Whereas Pingree said in a statement that the USMCA deal “ignores the reality of the climate crisis,” which will have “major implications” for Maine. She noted the state has some of the highest asthma rates in the country. “Without environmental protection in the agreement, the climate crisis will only accelerate and irreversibly damage Maine,” she said.
The deal has been hailed by Democrats as having stronger protections for workers and by Republicans for supporting manufacturing jobs and making U.S. companies more competitive abroad. NAFTA eliminated most tariffs and other trade barriers involving the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Maine politicians have long been critical of NAFTA, seeing it as a symbol of the decline of traditional manufacturing industries.
Supporters say the new deal would create stricter rules for cars made and sold in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. It will require that 75 percent of automotive components be produced within the three-nation trading bloc for companies to be sold duty-free and that more than 40 percent of auto content be made by workers inside the trade bloc who earn at least $16 an hour.
Proponents say it will also strengthen labor by requiring inspections of factories suspected of labor violation, improve environmental standards — something some green groups have disagreed on — give American farmers greater access to Canada’s dairy markets, address labeling requirements and set digital trade rules.
It’s unlikely the deal will get through the Senate before next year, as Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch Connell has said the Senate will not consider the deal until after the January impeachment trial.