Mexican officials believe they have strong arguments to assure Congress that their country is committed to enforcing labor and environmental protections in the proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican Ambassador Martha Barcena Coqui said Thursday.
Mexico is willing to take on the role of answering lawmakers’ questions, but Barcena said at an event hosted by CQ Roll Call that the Trump administration has the ultimate responsibility for winning congressional approval for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“It is our understanding that the main responsibility for getting USMCA ratified here in Congress is the U.S. government’s responsibility. It is not our responsibility to get USMCA ratified in the U.S.,” Barcena said.
The national legislatures of the three governments must approve the agreement. Mexico ratified it in June. The agreement updates NAFTA and includes new chapters for areas such as digital trade.
Barcena said environmental issues such as water pollution can be dealt with in partnership with the International Boundary and Water Commission plus periodic reviews of progress and new problems.
She said labor courts not controlled by the Mexican president will have oversight of new labor rights for independent unions and workers. She also said a state-to-state dispute mechanism in USMCA cannot be blocked if all three countries have arbitrators in place by the time the agreement goes into force.
Barcena said a congressional delegation organized by Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, is scheduled to meet Friday with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to discuss enforcement of labor provisions that Mexico enacted into law earlier this year. Lopez Obrador, Barcena said, ran on a platform of labor reform and improving the lives of Mexican workers.
“What more political will can they have? We say we are your partners,” Barcena said.
Mexico backs USMCA because it will be a vehicle for López Obrador to make good on promises he made on worker reforms and will make Mexico attractive to investors, the ambassador said.
The government of Enrique Pena Nieto, Lopez Obrador’s predecessor, renegotiated most of NAFTA, but Barcena said it was then president-elect Lopez Obrador who agreed to labor language by the Trump administration to replace company unions with independent ones elected by workers in secret ballots and to require that 40 percent of the content of vehicles made in North America come from auto plants where workers earn $16 an hour.
The Lopez Obrador government believes Mexico can benefit under that requirement because engineers and other skilled professionals at auto plants in Mexico earn at least $16 an hour, Barcena said.
USMCA also offers another plus for Mexico, which is battling a reputation for corruption and grappling with a weakening economy.
“If we have this legal framework in place, we send a message of stability and certainty. Investors will know Mexico will play by the rules of USMCA so that they can go and invest. It is very important to send that message,” Barcena said.