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Former USTR Official Says Any China Deal Would Just Be A Ceasefire
By Brooke Migdon
     WASHINGTON (MNI) - Congress may be too preoccupied with President Donald
Trump's impeachment inquiry and preventing a government shutdown to ratify USMCA
or dig into any stopgap China agreement this year, former U.S. Trade
Representative Carla Anderson Hills told MNI. 
     With only a handful of legislative days left in 2019 Congress is
"overloaded" by impeachment hearings and other issues, she said in an interview.
On top of that the replacement to NAFTA is already bogged down by lingering
questions on labor rules and enforcement.
     Anderson Hills, the top U.S. negotiator of NAFTA, said some members of
Congress feel the pressure to squeeze ratification into what's left of the year
as House officials approach an election. Members of the House of Representatives
are elected every two years compared to Senators, who typically serve six-year
terms.  
     "Members of Congress would rather not have a contentious issue in a year
that they're running," she said. 
     The current trade ideology of some representatives may pivot depending on
what is more favorable in their home districts, she suggested. "You saw it in
the last election," she said, referring to Democratic candidate Hillary
Clinton's opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- a trade deal Clinton
called a "gold standard" during her tenure as Secretary of State under President
Barack Obama.
     What it comes down to, Anderson Hills said, is a simple question: "Are you
going to put politics over policy, or policy over politics?"
     Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a Senate speech in October he doubted
a vote on USMCA would happen this year. Many House Democrats are hesitant to
vote yes on the accord as it is, wanting greater enforcement provisions and
stronger labor and environmental protections. Those are the same concerns raised
by multiple Democrats during negotiations of the original NAFTA.
     Members of Congress are "going to have to scratch their heads" and parse
out their differences, Anderson Hills said, because NAFTA is 25 years old and
overdue for an update.
     Despite a long-standing stalemate, progress seems to have accelerated in
recent weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated Thursday USMCA could be
passed within the next few weeks. Larry Kudlow, a top economic advisor to the
White House, said Friday he was "optimistic" that the deal could be passed this
fall. In October, he said he expected USMCA to pass before Congress returns home
for the Thanksgiving holiday.
     Mexico has already ratified USMCA, and Canadian leaders earlier this month
affirmed they will only finalize the deal in tandem with Congress. 
     As USMCA moves along, a "Phase One" deal with China is also in the works.
But the deal is not expected to address contentious issues such as China's
alleged intellectual property theft or forced technology transfer. China has
also said the U.S. must drop its tariffs in exchange for a full deal, something
Trump was unwilling to give in other negotiations.
     Anderson Hills said the upcoming China deal should be seen as more of a
temporary ceasefire than a complete agreement. Enforcement and follow-through
will be critical in setting the tone for future negotiations even with potential
Chinese legislation to protect the intellectual property rights of foreign
businesses, she said. 
--MNI Washington Bureau; +1 202 371 2121; email: brooke.migdon@marketnews.com
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