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Mexican envoy: U.S. labor should embrace USMCA

Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Barcena Coqui on Monday said the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s pioneering labor reforms shouldn’t be taken for granted.

The U.S. labor movement should “seize the opportunity” and embrace the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s (USMCA’s) groundbreaking labor reforms, which were not even considered until Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected on July 1, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Barcena Coqui said Monday.

U.S. labor organizations have complained that USMCA labor provisions won’t be enforceable, and the AFL-CIO recently announced its opposition to the agreement absent a renegotiation of labor provisions. House Democrats have expressed similar sentiments.

But NAFTA’s state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism, which would be used to enforce USMCA labor provisions, has failed mainly because the U.S. opted to not submit its roster of arbitrators to serve on dispute panels, Barcena said during an event at Georgetown Law School.

USMCA parties can ensure labor enforcement has teeth if they simply submit their lists of panelists at the same time USMCA is ratified, Barcena said.

“You will never find another partner as [the Mexican] government,” Barcena said in response to a comment by AFL-CIO trade and globalization policy specialist Celeste Drake. “Believe me.”

Drake said the U.S. has been on the receiving end of promises by Mexico for 25 years and by other trading partners that they will protect workers, enforce domestic laws and provide workers with legitimate opportunities to organize, Drake said. “The fact is they haven’t.”

After endorsing Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency during the last election cycle, AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka said on Fox Business on Election Day in 2016 that a NAFTA renegotiation under a Clinton administration would involve organized labor having a seat at the negotiating table, an approach to NAFTA he said he would support.

A report of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s Labor Advisory Committee on Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy at the end of the negotiation noted the Trump administration’s level of engagement with organized labor was an improvement over prior trade agreement negotiations, but criticized the fact that the talks took place behind closed doors.

Barcena said Mexican labor reform legislation expected to pass Mexico’s Congress this week will ensure enforcement of USMCA labor provisions by Mexican domestic bodies, including independent labor courts, as well as labor boards that would resolve disputes and register contracts between workers and companies.

“If there is a violation of the labor laws in Mexico, workers can go to the labor courts and they have a speedy procedure,” she said. “What else do you want for enforcement? What can you ask a country internally to do if you have those enforcements in place?”
The lower house of Mexico’s Congress has approved the labor reform legislation, and the Mexican Senate is expected to approve it later this week, Barcena said.

“There will be free unions and we will ensure union leadership is overhauled,” she said.
Mexico currently has a system of “protection unions,” unions that are company controlled. Barcena said the labor reform legislation would dismantle this system.

The Mexican government is working on a road map to implement the labor legislation, and some of the institutions to be created by the legislation should be in place next year, she said.

After the legislation is passed, Mexico will have to review 700,000 protection contracts in four years, Barcena said.
“We are already preparing what kind of technical cooperation we can work with the U.S. authorities, and maybe with the help of [U.S.] labor unions themselves, because [they] may have more experience in certain areas,” she said. “The reviewing of the contracts will be of extreme importance. It will be very relevant and would hope to have the collaboration of the labor movement in the U.S.”

Trumka on Tuesday said he opposes ratification of USMCA because he doubts Mexico will enforce labor reforms required by the pact, noting that he wants to see Mexico’s ability to amend the 700,000 protection contracts in the four-year time span required by the agreement, AFP reported.

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