57% of the USMCA text is copied from the TPP.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) provided the first opportunity for the Trump administration to translate its “America First” trade policy into specific treaty design. In this article, we evaluate how radical these changes have been by systematically comparing the USMCA to its predecessors. We find that, first, the USMCA copies 57 percent of its text from the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), which Trump had repudiated and unsigned once he took office. Compared to U.S. treaty practice generally, the USCMA is more of a continuation rather than a departure from prior texts. Second, we systematically investigate where the USMCA diverges from the TPP. We find that USMCA treaty design differences can be grouped in five categories: (1) structural remnants of NAFTA, such as bi-national panels to review trade remedies; (2) “America First” elements, such as tighter rules of origins; (3) modernizations, e.g. by incorporating TPP innovations on digital trade; (4) additions on non-U.S. policy priorities, such as gender rights, promoted by the other USMCA states; and finally (5) changes of a more technical nature. In sum, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, the USMCA does not usher in a new generation of trade agreements, but it does engage in targeted innovations that are driven by varying policy considerations that include but are not limited to his “America First” agenda.