Table of Contents
Table of Contents

USMCA: Definition, Purpose, Major Provisions, Vs. NAFTA

What Is the USMCA?

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, also known as the USMCA, is a trade deal between the three nations which was signed on Nov. 30, 2018. The USMCA replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which had been in effect since January of 1994. Under the terms of NAFTA, tariffs on many goods passing between North America's three major economic powers were gradually phased out. By 2008, tariffs on various agricultural and textiles products, automobiles, and other goods were reduced or eliminated.

Key Takeaways

  • The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a free trade agreement between those three countries.
  • The USMCA replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
  • The USMCA took effect on July 1, 2020.
  • If not renewed, the USMCA will expire in 2036, 16 years after it took effect.

USMCA History

The USMCA was negotiated under the Trump Administration, but the idea of a replacement for NAFTA dates back to before President Trump's presidential term. Over the years, NAFTA has frequently been blamed for the export of U.S. manufacturing to Mexico and the accompanying loss of jobs and suppression of wages among U.S. workers. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Obama had pledged to renegotiate NAFTA in the interests of American workers but later declined to do so during his administration.

As a candidate in the 2016 election, President Trump campaigned on renegotiating NAFTA to try and get more favorable terms for the U.S. The USMCA began to officially take shape when the Trump administration sent the required 90-day notice to Congress that he would begin talks to renegotiate NAFTA. The talks officially began on August 16, 2017, and ended on September 30, 2018.

First, the Mexican Senate ratified the deal on June 19, 2019, and approved amendments to it on December 12, 2019. Then, on December 19, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to approve the USMCA. The legislation passed the Senate in January 16, 2020, and on January 29, President Trump signed it into law. Finally, the Canadian Parliament ratified the treaty on March 13, 2020.

Several difficulties emerged before and shortly after the treaty went into effect on July 1, 2020. First, on May 31, 2019, President Trump said starting June 10, the U.S. would impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports. He threatened this increase in tariffs unless the Mexican government took sterner measures to lower the number of Central American asylum seekers entering the U.S. from Mexico. A deal was reached to avoid the tariffs on June 8, 2020.

On August 6, 2020, President Trump announced he would reinstate tariffs on Canadian aluminum, which had originally been put in place in 2018. The Canadian government responded, saying it was planning to place equal tariffs on U.S. aluminum products. On October 27, the same day the Canadian government was expected to unveil its retaliatory trade measures, President Trump suspended the tariffs, retroactively through September 1. However, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative said that the U.S. might reinstate the tariffs if aluminum imports from Canada "exceed 105 percent of the expected volume in any month".

Important Provisions of the USMCA

Per the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the USMCA is a "mutually beneficial win for North American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses." NAFTA aimed to create a free trade zone between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and the USMCA utilizes NAFTA as a basis for a new agreement. While the USMCA has a broad impact on trade of all kinds between the three named nations, some of the agreement's most important provisions include the following:

Dairy and Agriculture

The USMCA will increase U.S. farmers' access to the Canadian dairy market by raising the amount of U.S. goods that can be exported to Canada tariff-free. This will allow the U.S. tariff-free access to up to 3.6% of the Canadian dairy market. The amount of tariff-free exports allowed for some poultry products will also be expanded.


One of the most significant portions of the USMCA stipulates new trade regulations for automobiles and automotive parts. Under NAFTA, cars and trucks with at least 62.5% of their components manufactured in one of the three participating countries could be sold free of tariffs. The USMCA increases that minimum requirement to 75%. At the same time, the USMCA stipulates minimum wages for workers in the automotive manufacturing process: 40-45% of the work done on eligible vehicles must be accomplished by workers earning at least $16 (USD) per hour.

Intellectual Property

The USMCA increases intellectual property protections. Among other changes to trade policy, the new agreement extends the copyright period to 70 years beyond the life of the creator, an increase of 20 years in some cases. The USMCA also addresses new products that weren't around when NAFTA was written in the early 1990s. The USMCA prohibits tariffs on digital music, e-books, and other similar digital products. The agreement also establishes copyright safe harbor for internet companies, meaning they can't be held liable for copyright infringements of their users if they make good faith efforts to stop infringement.

Sunset Provision

Unlike NAFTA, the USMCA is set to expire after 16 years unless it is renewed. All three nations are required to come together for a joint review every 6 years. The agreement is not automatically terminated if one party refuses to renew it at one of these joint reviews. Instead, the nations are required to meet every year for the following 10 years to resolve the issues blocking renewal. The agreement expires if no agreement is reached in those 10 years.


The USMCA sets up an independent investigatory panel that can investigate factories accused of violating workers' rights, and stop shipments from factories found to be in violation of labor laws. In addition, Mexico says it will enact a wide array of labor reforms to make it easier for workers to unionize, and stop violence and other abuses of workers. These provisions are meant to achieve two goals: to improving working conditions for Mexico's workers and create a more even playing field between U.S. and Mexican factories because Mexican wages are likely to rise.

Article Sources
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  1. Office of the United States Trade Representative. "United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement."

  2. Congressional Research Service. "U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Trade Agreement." Page 1 and 2.

  3. Office of the United States Trade Representative. "North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)."

  4. Economic Policy Institute. "NAFTA's Impact on U.S. Workers."

  5. The American Presidency Project. "Press Release - Barack Obama's Changing Positions: Everyone's Been Listening To Him."

  6. Congressional Research Service. "NAFTA and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)," Page 1.

  7. Office of the United States Trade Representative. "USTR Robert Lighthizer: USMCA Ratification By Mexico ‘Crucial Step Forward’."

  8. U.S. National Archives and Record Administration. "Conforming Amendments Related To Temporary Entry of Business Persons Under the Agreement Between the United States of America, the United Mexican States, and Canada (USMCA)."

  9. Office of the United States Trade Representative. "Ambassador Lighthizer Statement on Canada's Approval of the USMCA."

  10. Wall Street Journal. "U.S., Mexico Reach Deal to Avoid Tariffs."

  11. Wall Street Journal. "Trump Threatens Tariffs on Mexican Imports In Response To Migrant Surge."

  12. New York Times. "Trump Reinstates Tariff on Canadian Aluminum."

  13. BBC. "U.S. Backs Off Canadian Aluminium Tariffs."

  14. Office of the United States Trade Representative. "UNITED STATES–MEXICO–CANADA TRADE FACT SHEET Agriculture: Market Access and Dairy Outcomes of the USMC Agreement,"

  15. Undersecretary for North America. "United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA) Sunset Clause Review and Term Extension."

  16. Office of the United States Trade Representative. "United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Chapter 23: Labor," Pages 1, 4-11, 16-18. 

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