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-Pence@ (Recasts with Pence remarks)
OTTAWA, May 30 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday he was pushing to get the U.S. Congress to ratify the new North American trade agreement this summer after both Canada and Mexico signaled they are ready to start the approval process.
Pence, the Trump administration's point person for getting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) approved by Congress, made the remark at the start of a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa.
The deal, which was signed late last year, is meant to replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It has yet to be ratified by any of the three countries.
Canada formally began the process on Wednesday and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday announced his government's intention to send the treaty to Mexico's Congress for ratification.
"We have a historic opportunity to strengthen the economic ties between our two nations with the passage of the USMCA," Pence told reporters after sitting down beside Trudeau.
"I want to assure you that we're making energetic efforts to move approval through the Congress of the United States this summer," he said.
Pence's trip is the first official visit to Canada by a senior member of the Trump administration since President Donald Trump stormed out of a G7 summit hosted by Trudeau last year and accused the prime minister of being "dishonest and weak."
The U.S. vice president has been traveling through American states dependent on trade with Canada and Mexico to make the case for the deal, which faces a tricky path ahead of presidential and congressional elections next year.
Last week, Trump fought with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will control the timing of any initial vote on the trade deal, over her party's investigations of his administration. He also said Pelosi does not understand the agreement.
Some lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives have said the deal needs stronger enforcement provisions for new labor and environmental standards.
Relations with China, embroiled in a trade with the United States and sparring with Canada over the arrest of a senior executive of China-based Huawei Technologies Co Ltd in Vancouver, will be a top item on the agenda of the Pence-Trudeau meeting.
Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, the world's largest telecoms network gear maker, on a U.S. warrant in December. China subsequently arrested two Canadian men and charged them with espionage and cut off imports of key Canadian commodities.
"Just know that we stand with you for the security of our country and yours, and for the interests of our citizens," Pence said, referring to the dispute with China and the arrests of the Canadians in China.
Washington has accused Huawei of being tied to China's government, and has effectively banned U.S. firms from doing business with the company for national security reasons.
Pence and Trudeau also said they would discuss the political crisis in Venezuela. Pence has played a major role in the Trump administration's diplomatic and economic efforts to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power. Both Washington and Ottawa have backed opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Trudeau said on Wednesday he would also raise his concerns about "backsliding" on women's rights in the United States and elsewhere with Pence, a social conservative and opponent of abortion.
"It's not a top agenda item, but the subject will be broached," a Canadian government source said. (Reporting by Steve Scherer and Roberta Rampton Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Paul Simao)