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Trump Plans To Send Congress A Revised Trade Deal With Mexico

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As long as there has been a North American Free Trade Agreement, a wing of the Democratic Party has criticized it. So what do Democrats think now that a Republican president says he's closer to changing it? President Trump and Mexico's president say they agreed on tweaks that would, for example, encourage more components of autos to be made in North America. Ohio Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan is on the line from near Youngstown, Ohio.

Welcome to the program, sir.

TIM RYAN: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Is this a good deal?

RYAN: Well, the devil's in the details, and we're still looking at it. But I am hopeful that we can try to correct after, you know, 25 years or so of a devastating trade agreement that has literally wiped out communities in northeast Ohio and all - in many other areas across the country, in the South and the Great Lakes states. So I'm hopeful that we can do something that can reverse that trend.

INSKEEP: You are making it clear that you've been a critic of NAFTA for quite some time, but I wonder if you find this to be a significant change. There's already a rule stating that in order to avoid a tariff, a large percentage of a car be made in North America. This makes it just a little bit larger. There are a couple of other tweaks. Wages would be pushed up a little bit, it seems, in Mexico. Is this enough?

RYAN: Well, I think it's a start. You know, that this - NAFTA has had 25 years of integrating, you know, offshoring. Factories have closed that used to have 13- or 14,000 good-paying union jobs with pensions and health care. The vast majority of those jobs are gone now. Wages are down 12 percent since NAFTA came in. The middle class is still struggling. So this is going to be hopefully helpful in stemming the tide and maybe, you know, reducing some of the negativity from the deal. But it's not going to be a silver bullet. There's a lot of other things in the economy we have to do. There's a lot of other investments we have to make to get ready for the new economy. But I welcome this, and I'm hopeful that it can move us in the right direction.

INSKEEP: Does it strike you as a serious agreement? And I state that because the president has made announcements, for example, with the leader of North Korea that, on examination, turned out to be a little less than he suggested.

RYAN: Well, I'm not trying to be glib here, but it is very difficult to take the president seriously with some of these negotiations. You look at the tariff issue, where one day he has one stance; the next day, it's something else. You look at North Korea. You look at just what he says not even from one day to the next but from one tweet to the next or one hour to the next. So it's difficult for those of us who take this stuff very seriously to take him seriously.

But again, I'm hopeful because this is an issue that Democrats like me, from parts of the country that I come from, may find some agreement with what the administration is doing. So again, we're going to look at the details. There's a block of votes in the House of Representatives led by Representative Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut. We have a whip team around the NAFTA issue. So we're hopeful that we can maybe pull something off here.

INSKEEP: Well, when we talk about details, though, let's remember this very important detail - that this is an agreement the president has announced with two countries, and NAFTA has had three. If I'm not mistaken, Ohio, your state, does more business across the border with Canada than it necessarily does with Mexico. Is a two-country agreement something you can live with?

RYAN: Well, it's not preferable. I mean, I think when - it has legislative hurdles, too. I think when we're moving - when we're talking about fast track, for example. You know, NAFTA is one thing. A direct agreement with Mexico is something different. Again, when you look at Canada from our perspective, Canada has similar, if not better, worker rights. Canada has better, if not equal, environmental protections. And those are the two things that we really need to focus on. Are we lifting up labor, wages and standards in the United States? But also, are we lifting them up in other countries? So to leave Canada out, I think, is a drag.

INSKEEP: In a couple of seconds, has the president been unfair to Canada?

RYAN: Oh, there's no question about it. I mean, for him to turn Justin Trudeau into our enemy, for him to treat an ally who has been rock-solid with us for generations is ridiculous. And so hopefully we can find a way to bring Canada into this and lift up wages for our workers all at the same time and protect our environment.

INSKEEP: Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, thanks very much.

RYAN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.