Lighthizer offers insight into tackling USMCA labor enforcement

  • June 19, 2019

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Wednesdayhe wants to work with lawmakers and U.S. organized labor to develop a monitoring system that would ensure Mexico implements its labor reform as required under the new North American trade pact.

“I expect to have a level of monitoring down there, and I want to work with members on what that level should be, but we clearly need a level of monitoring,” Lighthizer said during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing focused on President Donald Trump’s trade agenda.

Lighthizer’s testimony offered the clearest look to date at how he would like to tackle calls from Democrats and union leaders to strengthen Mexico’slabor enforcement under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. He indicated he wants U.S. organized labor to help monitor whether Mexican companies are complying with labor reforms Mexico committed to making.

“It’s reasonable to say we ought to have some process where outside people have an obligation — in this case and many cases it would be organized labor, but not just organized labor — to come in and say, ‘Here’s a problem we see at this and that facility, and something’s got to be done about it’; and then I believe we go through that process,” Lighthizer said.

Mexico’s Senate passed a landmark labor reform law in late April that would overhaul the country’s existing labor structure, in line with its commitments in the USMCA. The law creates an improved arbitration system for labor disputes and would increase the independence of labor unions. It also requires that Mexico review 700,000 collective bargaining agreements within four years.

Mexico has not offered a roadmap for how it will implement the law, a process that Lighthizer called “an enormous undertaking.” But the U.S. trade chief also defended Mexican officials, saying, “I don’t think we should start with the proposition that the leadership in Mexico does not want to enforce it. There, people are actual reformers.”

Lighthizer added that the labor annex in USMCA outlines specific benchmarks Mexico must meet, making it easier to enforce the deal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear she wants to see how Mexico implements the labor law before the USMCA is put up for a vote.

“Obviously, we can’t wait to pass USMCA until they do this, or we’d have no USMCA and the effect on the economy would be dramatic and negative,” Lighthizer said.