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Trump, At G-20 Summit, Signs Trade Deal With Canada, Mexico


President Trump has signed a new trade agreement with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, as expected, today. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, as the president calls it, replaces NAFTA and still needs to be ratified by Congress to have the force of law. President Trump is in Argentina for a meeting of the G-20 world leaders for this signing ceremony, among other meetings. And NPR's Scott Horsley has been watching it all from a distance. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what did you see and hear today?

HORSLEY: It was sort of interesting to see the subtly different ways the three leaders talked about this agreement as they signed it. To President Trump, this is a brand new trade agreement, starting from scratch. To Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican president, it was sort of a modest updating of NAFTA to take into account digital commerce and things that weren't contemplated a quarter-century ago when NAFTA was negotiated.

And to Canada's Justin Trudeau, it was sort of a defensive deal. We preserve the free trade that we already had and didn't see those tariff-free zones blown up, as President Trump had threatened to do. The prime minister refused to call this the USMCA, as President Trump has called it. Maybe he doesn't like having Canada in third position in that setup.

INSKEEP: Oh, so the CUSMA might have been more to his liking. He might have gone for that.

HORSLEY: He just referred to it as the new North American Free Trade Agreement. The biggest change this deal makes, really, is to the automotive sector, where it does put higher requirements on North American content, and in particular, high-wage content for vehicles to trade duty-free.

INSKEEP: Well, let's give a listen to some of what Justin Trudeau had to say today.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: The recent plant closures by General Motors, which affects thousands of Canadian and American workers and their families, are a heavy blow. Make no mistake. We will stand up for our workers and fight for their families and their communities.

INSKEEP: Well, that's a really interesting point for Justin Trudeau to be making, Scott, because that was not necessarily a NAFTA-related closure by General Motors, but it does seem to be connected to some of the president's other trade policies.

HORSLEY: Well, that's right. And of course, the president - President Trump argues that this new agreement will bring automotive jobs back to the United States. General Motors' announcement this week seems to cast some suspicion on that, and Prime Minister Trudeau, in particular, said the GM announcement is all the more reason to resolve the friction over steel and aluminum tariffs. This deal does not end the tariffs that the U.S. put on Canadian steel and aluminum. And General Motors has said that those steel and aluminum tariffs robbed it of a billion dollars in profits in the last year.

INSKEEP: A reminder that the president is pushing on a lot of different trade buttons at once, but one of them was NAFTA. There have been these updates, these changes to NAFTA, including a new name - at least that the president embraces - although the president acknowledged today that the work is not done. Let's listen.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I look forward to working with members of Congress and the USMCA partners. And I have to say, it's been so well-reviewed I don't expect to have very much of a problem.

INSKEEP: Well, OK. It's been well-reviewed in some quarters, but he does need to get through Congress. And Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who's somewhat sympathetic to some of the president's complaints about trade, said yesterday she's not for this.

HORSLEY: It is never easy to pass a trade deal, so this will be no exception. It's interesting - this will now have to get through a Democratic House, as well as a Republican Senate. So it's going to be a bit of a tightrope walk for the administration, but that's something that trade representative Robert Lighthizer anticipated. And there is stuff in this agreement that will be more attractive, in some cases, to Democrats than to members of the president's own party.

INSKEEP: Scott, always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.