Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to be in Washington on Wednesday to negotiate an addendum to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that will help the Trump administration get Congress to ratify the trade deal, Mexican government sources say.
Ms. Freeland’s talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Jesus Seade, who handles the USMCA file in Mexico, would be aimed at crafting a side-letter that incorporates demands from congressional Democrats, who hold a majority in the House of Representatives.
Among the demands on the table, said one industry source with knowledge of the discussions, will be for U.S. officials to inspect Mexican factories and ensure they are living up to higher labour standards in USMCA, as well as more Canadian resources to help Mexico make its labour system more union-friendly.
The Globe and Mail is keeping the identity of the sources confidential because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
A Mexican official speaking on background about the delicate talks said Mexico’s powerful unions have strongly objected to inspections, and the country will heed their wishes. But the official said Mexico is open to higher wages for its workers – a key U.S. demand.
An official in Ms. Freeland’s office said she will attend a cabinet orientation meeting Wednesday morning but would not say if she will be in Washington later in the day for USCMA talks as the Mexicans expect.
“We have been in regular contact with our American and Mexican counterparts, including frequently today. We are encouraged by progress in the United States, and will confirm with you once any meeting in Washington is scheduled. The Deputy Prime Minister has spoken with Ambassador Lighthizer several times yesterday and today,” Ms. Freeland’s office said in a statement.
The Mexican government has said that an agreement to stop panel-blocking — a practice by which a country can thwart the agreement’s dispute-resolution mechanisms by refusing to appoint members to tribunals that adjudicate disputes — will also be part of any side-letter.
Mr. Lighthizer wants to make sure he can get Canada and Mexico to agree to such provisions before putting them in writing for Democratic lawmakers, the industry source said.
Mr. Seade said earlier this week that Mexico will be happy to agree to end panel-blocking, which his country has wanted to get rid of for years, as well as to agree to other “technical” changes to the deal.
But he warned that U.S. labour was making other demands that were “unacceptable for Mexico” and that “we no longer want them discussed” — an apparent reference to U.S. inspections of Mexican factories.
Mr. Seade said the United States has yet to give Mexico any actual text on the side letter. But he said he was hopeful a deal could be concluded shortly.
“Some corrections have been made to the agreement, and we are very close to getting a decent agreement for the U.S., Canada and certainly for Mexico,” he told reporters in Mexico City.
The change on panel-blocking is also expected to be welcome to Canada: Ottawa proposed a stronger dispute-resolution system in negotiations last year, but could not get Mr. Lighthizer to agree. Mr. Lighthizer, in fact, wanted to gut the deal’s dispute resolution provisions and only reluctantly agreed to leave them mostly unchanged.
In a statement this week, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said talks are “within range of a substantially improved agreement,” but that she still needed Mr. Lighthizer to put the things he had agreed to in writing.
The Speaker cited dispute resolution, labour, the environment and prescription drugs as the areas in which Democrats wanted changes.
Both U.S. President Donald Trump, who sees the USMCA as one of the chief legacies of his term, and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have pushed the U.S. Congress to move on the issue in recent days.
Mexico has already ratified the USMCA. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to do the same once the United States does.
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