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N.H. leaders cheer as Senate passes new trade agreement

By CASEY JUNKINS

With AP Dispatches

NASHUA – U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both D-N.H., joined 87 of their colleagues in Washington, D.C. on Thursday to approve the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement in hopes of helping to grow the economy.

After the vote, Gov. Chris Sununu thanked the Senate for the new trade deal, which is intended to serve as a replacement for the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“Congress finally did their job,” Sununu said. “As I have said from the beginning, this agreement will strengthen our economy, lead to more jobs for hardworking Granite Staters, and increase access for New Hampshire’s businesses. I look forward to the president signing this historic 21st century trade agreement into law.”

The vote was 89-10. The measure now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

“One of the greatest trade deals ever made! Also good for China and our long term relationship. 250 Billion Dollars will be coming back to our Country, and we are now in a great position for a Phase Two start. There has never been anything like this in U.S. history! USMCA NEXT!,” Trump tweeted after the vote.

Trump and other critics have blamed NAFTA for encouraging U.S. companies to move their manufacturing plants south of the border to take advantage of low-wage Mexican laborers.

Trump campaigned in 2016 on ripping up trade deals that he said added to the nation’s trade deficit and cost the country manufacturing jobs. He promised he would rewrite NAFTA if elected, a pact he described as “the worst trade deal in history.” He can now go to swing states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and tell voters he followed through on that pledge.

“This deal fulfills yet another promise made by President Trump to negotiate fair and reciprocal trade deals, and will help to deliver continued economic growth and prosperity for all Americans,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Mexico has already approved the agreement. Canada is expected to do so in coming months, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government long insisting it would wait for U.S. approval before proceeding.

The agreement aims to have more cars produced in the United States, where workers earn an average of at least $16 an hour. It also secured changes that require Mexico to change its laws to make it easier for workers to form independent unions, which should improve worker conditions and wages and reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to relocate their plants.

The AFL-CIO, an association of trade unions, endorsed the measure, as did scores of business and farm groups. “Getting the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO to both endorse this trade deal was no easy feat, and it took both sides’ good faith efforts to get us here,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Shaheen said the new deal “makes improvements to NAFTA.”

“I was very pleased that this agreement was substantially improved by the priorities pressed by Democratic leaders in Congress in negotiations with the Trump administration,” she added. “I’m very glad to see bipartisan progress on this issue and hope we can build on this work in Congress by addressing the many other critical concerns impacting middle-class families throughout the country.”

Hassan said the USMCA will “level the playing field for New Hampshire businesses and consumers.”

“Thanks to the good-faith efforts of Democrats and Republicans alike, the USMCA will help businesses and consumers thrive and includes key labor and environmental enforcement standards,” Hassan added.

The biggest holdouts were environmental groups, which continue their opposition, saying the deal doesn’t address climate change. Indeed, they contend the agreement would contribute to rising temperatures.

“Despite the fact that it includes very good labor provisions, I am voting against USMCA because it does not address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.