Trump and Pelosi Both Claim Victory on the USMCA. Who Really Won?

Trump and Pelosi Both Claim Victory on the USMCA. Who Really Won?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discusses the USMCA trade agreement at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 10, 2019 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

The day after the U.S. House of Representatives voted largely along party lines to impeach President Donald Trump last month, it voted overwhelmingly to approve his top trade priority: the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. The new trade deal will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, in effect since 1994 and reviled in equal measure by Trump and many Democrats. Both Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hailed the amended agreement—approved by 385 members of the House, with just 41 opposed—as a victory, and claimed credit for getting it done. Yet while there is much in the USMCA to like, the results for American consumers, workers and firms are not uniformly positive.

So who really won? Pelosi wanted a vote on the USMCA before heading home for the holiday recess to show that the House Democratic majority could get things done even as they pursued impeachment. The vote also provided an achievement that moderate Democrats in districts won by Trump could take home to their constituents. Trump wanted to get a deal done because he had promised during the 2016 campaign to replace NAFTA, which he called “the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country,” and was adamant about promoting the USMCA as a promise kept. Mexico was even more desperate to see the new agreement implemented to remove the trade uncertainty hanging over its economy, since the U.S. is its largest trading partner.

Ultimately, the House Democrats had enough leverage to get almost everything they wanted from the White House and from Mexico. In Pelosi’s words, “We ate their lunch.” In an article describing how the deal came together, Politico’s Megan Cassella reported that a controversial clause providing 10 years of market exclusivity to newer, and expensive, biologic drugs was the first thing to go, followed by other provisions that lengthen patent protections for pharmaceuticals and keep prices high. This was important for Democrats planning to campaign later this year on access to health care and bringing down drug prices.

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