The Democratic chair of a powerful U.S. congressional committee met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday to seek Canada’s help in ensuring Mexico enforces stricter labour standards in the renegotiated NAFTA deal.
The White House and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives are still in negotiations over possible changes to the deal as the Trump administration tries to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement before the end of 2019, despite an impeachment inquiry and the looming U.S. presidential primary season.
Richard Neal, chairman of the House ways and means committee, said he’s not seeking to reopen the trade deal, but is looking for guarantees that tougher labour standards will be followed.
The Democrats won control of the House in 2018 and their caucus, which has long been concerned about job losses to Mexico, is now crucial to passing the USMCA.
"I think what we’re going to prioritize here is clearly the issue of labour enforcement, and we think that on USMCA, we’re very close, but we need some guarantees as it relates not just to Canada, but also their help as it relates to Mexico,” Mr. Neal told Global News as he arrived on Parliament Hill for the meeting.
“We think that we want a series of guarantees. They’re pretty basic, and we’ve reached accord on many of these issues but we’ve also decided on the ways and means committee with the working group that nothing is settled until everything is settled.”
He later met with other officials including Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Employment Minister Patty Hajdu.
Canada has begun assisting Mexico in efforts to enforce tougher labour standards. In August, Ms. Hajdu visited Mexico to help set up working groups. The Mexican embassy in Canada said in a statement on Wednesday that the two countries have had several meetings on “best practices on collective bargaining, union registration, protection of independent unions and independent and impartial procedures in labour lawsuits.”
Ms. Freeland’s office later described the Neal meeting as “an occasion to discuss the ratification process for the new NAFTA and the shared commitment between Canada and the United States to support the implementation of important labour reforms in Mexico."
Mexico has already bristled at the idea of foreign monitoring of its labour practices. Several weeks ago, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed wage increases and funding for the implementation of labour reforms, part of a campaign to persuade U.S. Democratic lawmakers to ratify USMCA.
Dispute resolution in USMCA has been a focus of negotiations between Democrats and the Republicans. Jesus Seade Kuri, Mexico’s chief trade negotiator for North America, told reporters this week that he expects these talks might lead to the addition of a measure to prevent USMCA member countries from blocking the formation of panels to resolve disputes.
Last week, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, signalled that Democrats are still committed to passing USMCA despite impeachment proceedings that now dominate Washington.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau, prior to his meeting with Mr. Neal, said he’s pleased that the revised deal is moving forward.
“It is a pleasure to see the positive momentum that seems to be happening on this renewal of this very important trade deal.“
The Democratic-controlled House must vote on the USMCA as part of the process of ratification of the new trade deal in the United States. Mexico has already ratified the agreement, while Canada has not, saying it will move in tandem with the United States.
A Canadian official said conversations did not discuss in specific terms what is being negotiated between the Democrats and Republicans on USMCA. The Globe and Mail is keeping the official’s name confidential because he was not authorized to speak on the record about the content of the Neal talks in Ottawa
Canadian trade lawyer Mark Warner said he thinks USMCA could be in jeopardy if it doesn’t pass Congress by end of December. "Presidential primaries begin in February. “Once you start getting into presidential primary season, particularly on the Democratic side, with candidates who have to campaign but also vote, you get into the silly political season.”
With reports from Reuters