U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is trying to win over House Democrats on the administration's U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade. Lighthizer met privately with the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday to address any concerns they have with the legislation, which has been criticized by liberal lawmakers over issues like the enforcement of its labor provision, says Pro Farmer’s Jim Wiesemeyer.
The labor issue involves whether Mexico can be held to provisions that require it to raise wages for some factory workers up to the equivalent of $16 an hour, Wiesemeyer says. Some Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), are waiting for Mexico to pass a law that would overhaul the country’s labor structure to ensure workers have collective bargaining rights and secret votes for unionization.
“The Mexican Senate is expected to pass the necessary legislation next month, but some lawmakers are still concerned Mexico will backpedal on its commitments. The text of USMCA specifies that ratification could be delayed if Mexico doesn’t make the promised changes,” Wiesemeyer says.
Concerns remain that Mexico will not adopt more-stringent labor provisions. Several expressed doubt about Mexico putting in place those reforms.
"We’re not there yet," said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). "Mexico has to make some moves beforehand, to show good faith. We need that, first of all. If they don't act, there's no chance of getting the votes."
As well, demands by progressive Democrats may also become an issue, according to House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas).
"My worry is that the progressive caucus and others are still so deeply involved in this rush for impeachment that it's distracting them from a lot of the work that needs to be done over here," Brady said. "One of them is modernizing this trade relationship with our two biggest trading partners."
Still, other Democrats applauded Lighthizer for meeting with them, labeling him more accessible than his predecessors. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.) said Lighthizer was "listening" to Democrats and said "we want to get there" relative to USMCA.
The Trump administration rejected Democratic lawmakers’ requests to reopen talks with Mexico and Canada, saying that neither it nor its trading partners are willing to restart talks, a point Lighthizer reiterated Wednesday.
Concerns over the enforceability of the pact could be addressed through forthcoming legislation to implement the deal, instead of reopening USMCA, Lighthizer said. He cited Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s new administration as reasoning against reopening the pact. Reopening the deal could prompt changes to areas that were considered settled, he added.
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