Just days after Mexico’s Senate voted to approve modifications negotiated into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), U.S. officials introduced a labor enforcement provision that threatened to stall the trade agreement.
An annex of the agreement presented in the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 13 called for the appointment of up to five U.S. labor inspectors in Mexico to monitor its adherence to new labor rules.
According to The Washington Post, Jesús Seade, Mexico’s undersecretary for North America in the Foreign Ministry, said during a Dec. 14 press conference that the labor inspection provision was “never mentioned to Mexico — never. And, of course, we don’t agree.”
Seade tweeted on Dec. 15, “Mexico will NEVER accept them if it is in any way about disguised inspectors for one simple reason: Mexican law prohibits it.”
However, in a letter posted Dec. 16 to Seade, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said language in the USMCA does not call for American “labor inspectors” in Mexico.
“The administration included language in the USMCA implementing legislation authorizing up to five attaches from the Department of Labor to work with their Mexican counterparts, workers, and civil society groups on implementation of the Mexican labor reform – These personnel will not be ‘labor inspectors’ and will abide by all relevant Mexican laws,” Lighthizer wrote.
Seade and Lighthizer met on Dec. 16 and appeared to come to an agreement over the labor provisions, according to a story by the Associated Press.
Seade, after meeting with Lighthizer in Washington Monday, told reporters: “I am satisfied. And I called the authorities in Mexico, and they are satisfied.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard also minimized the dispute saying that the labor inspection provision would not put the USMCA at risk and that the pact remained “intact,” according to the AP story.
The USMCA appears to be on the path towards ratification after representatives from the three countries signed an updated version of the deal on Dec. 10 to replace the nearly 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
In a 107-to-1 vote, Mexico’s Senate approved earlier modifications negotiated into the USMCA, granting increased enforcement of labor and environmental rules.
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on the USMCA on Dec. 19.