Lighthizer acknowledges USMCA concessions: 'Democrats won the House'

Key Points
  • The White House last week reached an agreement with House Democrats to move forward with its replacement of the NAFTA
  • Democrats celebrated the deal, saying they won key concessions. 
  • U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the administration had to give up language that pharmaceutical companies had fought for in order to sign a deal
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer gestures as he speaks during a meeting at the Presidential Palace, in Mexico City, Mexico December 10, 2019.
Henry Romero | Reuters

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer acknowledged on Sunday the White House had to make concessions in order to sign its USMCA trade agreement.

"We had an election and the Democrats won the House," he said, when CBS' Margaret Brennan asked about wins the Democrats were claiming in their negotiation of the bill.

"It was always my plan and I was criticized for this, as you know, it was always my plan that this should be a Trump trade policy. And a Trump trade policy is going to get a lot of Democratic support."

The White House last week reached an agreement with House Democrats to move forward with its replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was more than a year in the making, as Republicans and Democrats fought over protections for labor, the environment, intellectual property and the digital economy.

The Democratic-controlled House could vote to ratify the bill before the end of the year

Trump last week called the bill the "best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the deal was "infinitely better" than what the administration originally proposed.

"This bill is better now with the exception of biologics, which is a big exception," said Lighthizer.

Pelosi: Revised USMCA is better than the original version and NAFTA
Pelosi: Revised USMCA is better than the original version and NAFTA

"With the exception of biologics, it's more enforceable and it's better for American workers and American manufacturers and agriculture workers than it was before. For sure."

The negotiated deal eliminated language that that would have given 10-year patent protections for a classification of drugs known as "biologics," which are often the most cutting edge in the industry.

Democrats had lobbied against the language, saying its removal would help lower drug prices, by allowing generic drug companies to more quickly offer affordable alternatives. Republicans and pharmaceutical companies fought for its inclusion, arguing it protected U.S. drugs from I.P. theft and limited the country's reliance on medicine made overseas.

A number of trade groups that represented American corporations, like the National Association of Manufacturers and Business Roundtable, applauded the bill while rebuking its lack of I.P. protection.

"We are very disappointed the deal announced yesterday removes or weakens important intellectual property protections that could undermine life-saving innovations and technologies – [we] do not think weakening intellectual property protections should be a template for future trade agreements," said Joshua Bolten, CEO of the Business Roundtable in a meeting with the press earlier this week. The BRT otherwise enthusiastically supported the agreement.

The industry trade group for pharmaceutical companies, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said it would not support the bill. Its members include Allergan, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline.

"The announcement made today puts politics over patients," said the group's CEO, Stephen J. Ubl in a statement. "The only winners today are foreign governments who want to steal American intellectual property (IP) and free ride on America's global leadership in biopharmaceutical research and development."