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By Gary Locke, Erik Paulsen | Fox News

While Washington is often dominated by partisan gridlock, Congress can put politics aside and improve the everyday lives of Americans by approving the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trade deal that would replace the outdated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

There’s no doubt that NAFTA needed to be modernized and the USMCA is a 21st-century upgrade that benefits all Americans. It includes pro-growth reforms that sustain businesses while bolstering labor and environmental protections. We know our former colleagues and friends on both sides of the aisle value American workers over partisan politics. They can prove us right by passing USMCA quickly.

Consider how USMCA boosts America’s farmers, who support thousands of jobs in our home states of Minnesota and Washington. The pact requires Canada to raise import quotas for a variety of U.S. agricultural products, including dairy, poultry, eggs and sugar. That will generate new sales opportunities for farmers and create jobs across our nation.

ALASKA GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY: US-MEXICO-CANADA TRADE DEAL WOULD BRING GREAT BENEFITS — DEMS SHOULD OK IT

USMCA also sustains America’s 30 million small businesses, which form the backbone of the economy and employ 60 million people.

If enacted, USMCA will be the first-ever trade pact to include an entire small business chapter. It establishes special legal protections for small firms and removes outdated red tape that governs cross-border sales. Small businesses need USMCA’s safeguards to gain new footholds in international markets.

USMCA would help America’s creative industries and stop other countries from stealing our intellectual property and trade secrets. The pact extends copyright terms in Canada, which will ensure American authors and artists generate more revenue from their intellectual property.

Similarly, the deal strengthens Mexican and Canadian protections for biologic drugs – a cutting-edge class of medicines used in the fight against cancer and other serious conditions. These intellectual property protections, which have already existed in the United States for nearly a decade, will benefit American innovators and spur additional research investments, which create jobs.

Democrats and Republicans appreciate that USMCA includes some of the most comprehensive environmental protections of any trade agreement in American history.

For instance, the agreement installs new air quality controls, expands forest management practices, prohibits shark-finning and beefs up border security protocols to better prevent the illegal trade of wildlife.

USMCA dedicates an entire fully enforceable chapter to the environment. That’s a big improvement over NAFTA, which only dealt with environmental protection in a side agreement.

The new pact includes robust labor provisions that will protect American jobs, especially in the auto manufacturing industry. The deal requires that manufacturers make 75 percent of auto parts in North America to escape tariffs. And at least 40 percent of all those parts must be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour.

These provisions will keep factories in the United States and provide better job security for the nearly 10 million people in the U.S. whose jobs are supported by the auto industry. Companies will no longer have a reason to outsource jobs to countries with cheap labor like Mexico or China.

Labor standards also get a facelift under USMCA. The deal bans all forms of compulsory labor and promotes equality in the workplace, neither of which were completely guaranteed in NAFTA. And it explicitly shields migrant workers from exploitation under Mexican, Canadian and U.S. labor laws.

Democrats and critics of the old NAFTA have correctly argued that Mexico has historically failed to enforce labor standards or protect labor rights. Ensuring Mexico would enforce USMCA’s new, tough labor provisions has been a point of contention among some lawmakers.

That’s why U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer – and his counterparts down south – have thoroughly addressed these concerns. In fact, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently pledged to fully implement USMCA’s labor reforms.

Ambassador Lighthizer also reportedly suggested implementing binational inspections to ensure Mexican factories abide by USMCA’s labor provisions. And he has even offered to establish panels to adjudicate any future trade disputes between USMCA’s three member nations, another key demand of Democrats.

In other words, there’s no reason for Democrats or Republicans to delay any longer.

Expanding trade with other countries is essential for America’s job growth and keeping our economy strong. USMCA will empower American companies to sell more products abroad while protecting workers and the environment. It will become the new gold standard against which all future trade deals are measured. What more could lawmakers possibly want?

It’s time for Congress to come together and pass USMCA as quickly as possible.

Erik Paulsen represented Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from 200to 2019.

Both Paulsen and Gary Locke currently serve as honorary co-chairmen of The Pass USMCA Coalition. Gary Locke was the Democratic governor of Washington state from 1997 to 2005 and served as secretary of commerce and later the U.S. ambassador to China in President Barack Obama’s administration.

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