Canada starts ratification of North America trade pact

L-R: Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sign a free trade agreement in Buenos Aires, in 2018 (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

Ottawa (AFP) - Canadian lawmakers on Wednesday started the process of ratifying the new North American free trade agreement and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he hoped it would be finalized within weeks.

"Obviously we are very happy to be moving forward on the ratification of the North American free trade agreement," Trudeau told reporters ahead of the first round of parliamentary votes on the trade pact among the US, Canada and Mexico that is known as USMCA.

It will mean, he said, "good jobs, stability, opportunities for Canadians, and solidity in our relationship with our most important trading partner." He meant the US.

Trudeau's minority Liberal government needs the support of one or more opposition parties in order to pass enabling legislation in the House of Commons.

With 290 MPs versus 28 supporting the bill at first reading, it appeared headed for an easy ratification.

Trudeau, however, acknowledged opposition and industry groups' questions about the pact, details of which were only released in a final draft in December after lengthy trilateral negotiation.

But he expressed hope that it will get through parliament "responsibly and rapidly because it's so important for Canadians" and "because the Americans and Mexicans are waiting for Canada to do its job."

US President Donald Trump signed the new pact into law on Wednesday. Mexico ratified the agreement, which replaces the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among the three countries, on December 10.

A final Canadian vote, after several weeks of debate in parliament, has not yet been scheduled.