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Trump Turbulence Lags Momentum for North American Trade Deal

The Trump administration had taken steps in recent weeks to work with Democratic and Republican lawmakers

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Trump, North American, Trade Deal
A worker stacks bananas to be exported in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, May 31, 2019. President Donald Trump plans to put 5% tariffs on Mexican imports starting June 10 and then push them higher if the Mexicans don’t halt the surge of Central American migrants across the U.S. border. VOA

The Trump administration had taken steps in recent weeks to work with Democratic and Republican lawmakers to address concerns about the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement — and then came the threat of a new tariff.

President Donald Trump said this past week that he would put a 5% tariff on Mexican imports unless America’s southern neighbor cracked down on Central American migrants’ efforts to cross the U.S. border.

His recent decision to remove U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico had appeased mostly Republicans who were using their trade votes as leverage to do away with those penalties.

The administration also had committed to meeting with a group of House Democrats to allay their concerns. That gesture created goodwill, and as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., described it, put Democrats “on a path to yes.”

Trump, North American, Trade Deal
FILE – Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is pictured during a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept, 28, 2018. VOA

Now it’s unclear where that path may lead.

Jobs at stake

Influential business groups fear that Trump’s threat against Mexico could derail the proposed trade agreement.

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“The last thing we want to do is put that landmark deal — and the 2 million manufacturing jobs that depend on North American trade — in jeopardy,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it was considering legal action to block the tariffs from going into effect.

Some GOP senators are rankled, too, most notably Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent,” Grassley said.

Trump, North American, Trade Deal
FILE – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., addresses the Commonwealth Club, May 29, 2019, in San Francisco. VOA

Congressional aides from both parties said that it’s too soon to say whether Trump’s proposal will derail the agreement. But it does make it harder for lawmakers to assess how the agreement would improve the economic landscape if the tariffs on Mexico go into place.

Democrats seem mostly concerned with other breaking developments.

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Hours before Trump announced his tariff plan, his administration tried to set up the agreement for a possible congressional vote before the August recess. The administration completed the formal steps necessary to start the clock for submitting legislation to Congress.

Not ‘positive’

Pelosi said that was “not a positive step” and “indicates a lack of knowledge on the part of the administration on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement.”

Democrats want to strengthen enforcement of labor and environmental standards in Mexico. They have pushed for Mexico to change labor laws that have encouraged wages as low as $1 or $2 per hour at some plants, giving U.S. companies a strong incentive to move operations south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mexico lawmakers have approved a law that requires secret-ballot union votes and proof of workers’ consent for contracts. Democrats in Washington want to ensure follow-through, and Pelosi still holds the final say in determining when, or whether, the agreement comes up for a vote.

Trump, North American, Trade Deal
A stock monitor shows exchange rates on a storefront in Mexico City, Mexico, May 31, 2019, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to impose a 5% tariff that could rise substantially on all Mexican imports. The peso dropped more than 3% against the U.S. dollar by Friday morning. VOA

Pelosi also joined several Republican senators in slamming Trump’s tariff threat, saying it is “not rooted in wise trade policy but has more to do with bad immigration policy on his part.”

“Yet again, the president is sowing chaos over the border instead of delivering solutions for American workers and for American consumers,” Pelosi said.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the tariffs should not jeopardize passage of the trade pact and that the president simply wants Mexico to do more to stem the flow of migrants.

She said the White House is confident it would pass the Democratic-run House, if Pelosi put it to a vote.

Investors unhappy

Trump said he had the authority to impose a 5 percent levy on all goods imported from Mexico and pledged to increase those duties to as high as 25 percent if Mexico did not dramatically reduce the number of migrants crossing the border.

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Investors have responded negatively, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing Friday down roughly 355 points, or 1.4%.

Still, Conway told reporters that “tariffs are a good way to get a trading partner’s attention, and apparently it did.”

Mexico’s foreign relations secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, announced that he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would lead talks Wednesday in Washington, a move seen as potentially easing tensions and avoiding retaliatory tariffs.

Both Mexico and Canada are moving ahead with steps toward ratifying the trade agreement.

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, indicated that it’s up to the U.S. and Mexico to work out their dispute. “This is a bilateral issue,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Trump to Pursue Higher Sales Age for Vaping Devices: ‘An Age Limit of 21 or So’

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details

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Trump, Sales, Vaping
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Nov. 8, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration will pursue raising the age to purchase electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21 in its upcoming plans to combat youth vaping.

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details.

“We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so,” said Trump, speaking outside the White House.

Currently the minimum age to purchase any tobacco or vaping product is 18, under federal law. But more than one-third of U.S. states have already raised their sales age to 21.

Trump, Sales, Vaping
FILE – A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York, Dec. 20, 2018. VOA

A federal law raising the purchase age would require congressional action.

Administration officials were widely expected to release plans this week for removing virtually all flavored e-cigarettes from the market. Those products are blamed for soaring rates of underage use by U.S. teenagers.

However, no details have yet appeared, leading vaping critics to worry that the administration is backing away from its original plan.

Trump resisted any specifics on the scope of the restrictions.

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“We’re talking about the age, we’re talking about flavors, we’re also talking about keeping people working — there are some pretty good aspects,” Trump said.

Mint flavor

Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month.

Fruit, candy, dessert and other sweet vaping flavors have been targeted because of their appeal to underage users.

Trump, Sales, Vaping
FILE – A man blows a puff of smoke as he vapes with an electronic cigarette, Oct. 18, 2019. VOA

On Thursday, Juul Labs, the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, announced it would voluntarily pull its mint-flavored e-cigarettes from the market. That decision followed new research that Juul’s mint is the top choice for many high school students who vape.

With the removal of mint, Juul only sells two flavors: tobacco and menthol.

Vaping critics say menthol must be a part of the flavor ban to prevent teens who currently use mint from switching over.

‘Tobacco 21’ law

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Juul and other tobacco companies have lobbied in support of a federal “Tobacco 21” law to reverse teen use of both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products. The effort also has broad bipartisan support in Congress, including a bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The logic for hiking the purchase age for cigarettes and other products is clear: Most underage teens who use e-cigarettes or tobacco get it from older friends. Raising the minimum age to 21 is expected to limit the supply of those products in U.S. schools.

Delaying access to cigarettes is also expected to produce major downstream health benefits, with one government-funded report estimating nearly 250,000 fewer deaths due to tobacco over several decades.

Still, anti-tobacco groups have insisted that any “Tobacco 21” law must be accompanied by a ban on flavors, which they say are the primary reason young people use e-cigarettes. (VOA)