Democrats Try to Smooth USMCA Passage With Labor Proposal

Two top Senate Democrats, including longtime free-trade foe Sherrod Brown, are crafting a labor enforcement proposal that could help ease the way for passage of President Donald Trump’s new North American trade agreement

House Speaker Pelosi demands stronger enforcement before vote

Wyden-Brown measure wouldn’t require reopening trade deal

Brown of Ohio and Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, are floating ideas to address Democrats’ concerns about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and build a consensus that could help get it through the Democratic-controlled House. The proposals include measures that would bar Mexican exporters from benefiting from the deal’s reduced tariffs if they violate workers’ collective-bargaining rights.

“The Wyden-Brown proposal is a positive sign that Democrats are looking at the USMCA agreement seriously and trying to find ways to get to ‘yes’ on it,” said Bill Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The White House wants Congress to approve the USMCA before a monthlong August recess, but lawmakers have flagged a number of issues they say need to be addressed first. Those items include labor and enforcement rules, environmental standards and a provision on pharmaceuticals that Democrats fear will lead to higher drug prices.

“I’m hopeful that we could get a trade agreement, but it has to be one that is real and that works,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on April 4. On the matter of workers’ rights, she added that “exploiting workers in Mexico is not good for workers in the United States.”

The Brown-Wyden framework borrows from existing provisions in U.S. trade agreements on matters including Peruvian timber exports and imports of textiles and clothing. It would require additional Mexican labor enforcement personnel, and would create some U.S.-Mexican labor compliance initiatives. Also, the U.S. and Mexican governments could audit and inspect facilities suspected of violating the trade deal’s labor standards. If a certain facility wasn’t complying, goods made there wouldn’t get duty-free treatment.

The proposal would be negotiated as a side agreement that’s incorporated into the main text of the deal and wouldn’t require reopening the broader agreement.

Pelosi spokesman Henry Connelly said House Democrats are also involved in the talks.

“House and Senate Democrats have a shared interest in ensuring that Mexico fully implements the promised changes to its labor regime,” Connelly said. “We’re engaging with key stakeholders and members on both sides of the Capitol, looking at a number of avenues to make sure the proposed agreement lives up to Democrats’ standards.”

Wyden is the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade. And Brown’s decision to try to improve the USMCA rather than fight it is a positive sign, given his reputation as a critic of past trade deals he says hurt American workers. If he decides to back the agreement, he could provide political cover to other Democrats in both chambers to vote yes.



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A statement from Robert Martinez Jr., International President, Machinists Union:

“The IAM strongly supports the effort by Sens. Brown and Wyden to curtail corporate incentives to outsource work to Mexico. Adding real enforcement provisions to NAFTA 2.0 is one of the critical changes needed in the current text of the agreement. We look forward to working with Sens. Brown and Wyden on developing details for their proposal, which would provide verification that products from Mexico are manufactured in facilities that do not violate labor standards. In addition to the need for effective enforcement provisions being included in the actual text of the agreement, the IAM continues to insist that labor standards in the agreement be greatly strengthened.”


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