U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has never voted in favor of a trade deal — until now.
One of Brown’s first votes as a member of Congress was against the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. In the decades since, he has railed against the deal arguing that it cost American jobs.
“I voted against every trade agreement since I've been member of the House or Senate, because every trade agreement has been written by corporate interests to enrich executives and stock holders and not for workers,” said Brown.
Now, Brown plans to vote “yes” on the new NAFTA, known as the United States Mexico Canada Agreement or USMCA when the full Senate considers it. He already voted to approve the implementation bill in the Senate Finance Committee last week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday he expects the full Senate to vote on USMCA by the end of the week.
“I never thought this day would come,” Brown said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “It happened because...people overwhelmingly understood that the NAFTA was bad for our communities, especially in the industrial Midwest.”
Brown and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) worked together to push for stronger labor provisions in the deal.
“Finally, we saw a chance to renegotiate it and we knew if we stuck together, and together meant all the Democrats put pressure on the president saying, ‘Quit betraying workers. This matters for workers,’ and we succeeded,” said Brown.
Democratic lawmakers in the House negotiated with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for months on the deal’s labor, environmental, pharmaceutical and enforcement provisions. Last month, Speaker Pelosi announced a compromise and the House passed the USMCA implementation bill in a landslide vote.
“We went to work and we convinced the president — kicking and screaming — that we needed strong labor enforcement and that this agreement should be centered around workers, not around corporate interests,” said Brown.
Brown pointed to provisions that protect Mexican workers’ rights to form union and measures to ensure Mexico upholds labor standards as key victories in the deal.
“It’ll mean Mexican wages will come up,” Brown said. “Mexican wages will come up so that it will be less attractive for American companies to shut down production in Dayton and move to Mexico.”
Some Democratic opposition
While the Senate is expected to approve the deal by a wide margin, some Democratic lawmakers oppose the deal because it doesn’t do enough to fight climate change.
“USMCA’s environmental provisions are insufficient—and by not addressing climate change, the USMCA fails to meet the crises of this moment. Californians know that the climate crisis is already here. Communities across our state have experienced exacerbated fires, storms, floods, and drought, and the devastation will only get worse if we fail to take bold and immediate action to address it,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) in a statement.
Harris voted against the deal in the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday. Brown has acknowledged the deal isn’t perfect and told Yahoo Finance Congress needs to do a better job of addressing climate change.
The Trump administration has said it plans to use USMCA as a model for future trade negotiations — so while this the first trade deal to earn Brown’s approval, it may not be the last.
“One of the reasons we fought so hard for this is, we understood if we get this as part of USMCA, it becomes a model for the future. That strong enforceable labor standards, environmental standards, doing the right thing on access to medicines —that can be the core of any trade agreements,” he said. “And then over time, we'll see trade agreements work in a way that companies are much less likely to outsource jobs from the United States overseas.”
Still, his support for USMCA doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily get behind the Phase 1 deal with China, which was signed on Wednesday. Brown has urged President Trump to “stay strong” in his negotiations with China. “I want to make sure China's not the same thing and he's not really been open enough about what's in it,” he said.
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.