U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Monday discussed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s looming entry-into-force and enforcement issues with Democrats on the House Ways & Means trade subcommittee.
House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) called the discussion “productive” and added that Lighthizer “provided assurances that our communications will remain frequent and thorough.”
Lighthizer on Friday notified Congress that Mexico and Canada had taken the necessary steps to comply with the deal, adding the pact would enter into force on July 1. The U.S. also sent a notification to Canada and Mexico saying it had completed the internal procedures needed for the deal to take effect.
“Today, my colleagues and I emphasized to the Ambassador that the USMCA’s new enforcement mechanisms must be more than simply words on a page, particularly with regard to workers’ rights and environmental protection,” Neal said in an April 27 statement. “We expect that the high level of engagement that occurred between USTR and House Democrats during the process of negotiating revisions to the USMCA will continue as we move forward with the agreement’s implementation.”
The lawmakers also asked USTR how the administration “anticipates the COVID-19 pandemic will affect nations’ ability to implement USMCA’s requirements,” the statement added.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), who also participated in Monday’s conference call, urged USTR to “listen” to its Labor Advisory Committee’s recommendations as the parties form a labor panel for the deal’s so-called rapid-response mechanism. The rapid-response tool, which provides for facility-based enforcement of the agreement’s labor obligations within stringent timelines, is the first of its kind in a U.S. trade deal.
As outlined in a protocol of amendment agreed to by the parties last December, the parties are required to “establish and maintain” three lists of labor panelists. By the date of USMCA’s entry into force, each party is required to appoint three individuals to one list each and “appoint, by consensus, three individuals to a joint list,” the protocol says. “The individuals in the joint list shall be nonnationals of either Mexico or the United States.”
USTR last month announced it was accepting applications from those interested in serving on the specialized labor panels. That process closed last week.
Additionally, the U.S. implementing bill calls for robust capacity-building via the creation of a 12-member independent labor-expert board to monitor and evaluate the implementation of Mexico’s labor reform and the country’s compliance with its labor obligations. The board must be composed of 12 members — four appointed by the Labor Advisory Committee and four each appointed by the U.S. House and Senate, with Democrats and Republicans in both chambers each choosing two members.
“Ambassador Lighthizer … should listen to the Labor Advisory Committee’s recommendations that we appoint rapid response panelists so strong enforcers are positioned to win the fight for American workers and Mexican workers,” Pascrell said in his statement following the call. “I was encouraged that Ambassador Lighthizer agreed with this underlying point. Having rapid response panelists who understand American labor rights is paramount to this new enforcement mechanism working. With implementation now weeks away, nothing is more important than making sure Mexico lives up to its end of this bargain, and I will be closely watching.”
In addition to the specialized labor panels, the U.S. committed to appointing labor attachés to facilitate the implementation of and compliance with Mexico’s labor reforms. According to the U.S. implementing bill, the Labor Department is required to hire up to five additional full-time officers and “detail or assign such officers or employees to the United States Embassy or a United States Consulate in Mexico.”
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