MEXICO, CITY/WASHINGTON – A U.S. Democratic lawmaker said a meeting with Mexican officials on Tuesday geared at speeding up ratification of a North American trade deal was “excellent,” after Mexico’s president vowed union freedoms, higher wages and other labor rights.
U.S. Congressman Bill Pascrell, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee delegation that met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, suggested all sides were getting closer to an agreement.
“We’ve all got to get our act together, and we’re moving, we’re making progress,” he told Reuters after the meeting.
The USMCA, which would replace the $1 trillion North American Free Trade Agreement, risks getting bogged down in the 2020 U.S. presidential election race if U.S. lawmakers do not ratify it soon.
Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives hold the key to ratifying the deal, negotiated last year after U.S. President Donald Trump said the existing North American Free Trade Agreement was unfavorable to U.S workers and businesses.
Lopez Obrador called for ratification as soon as possible in his morning news conference ahead of the meeting and pledged to enforce a labor reform enacted by his left-leaning government.
“The reform is so that … workers can freely choose their representatives, and so there is union democracy and better wages,” he said.
After the meeting Jesus Seade, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, said he expected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move ahead with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by early November.
Seade has been leading negotiations with U.S. officials seeking to placate Democratic concerns about enforcement of tougher labor and environmental provisions in the new deal.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Rep. Kevin Brady, top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, urged Democrats to move quickly on the trade agreement.
“With election year politics upon us, time isn’t on our side. But the window of opportunity hasn’t closed yet. Democrats must act now,” they said in a joint statement.
Mexico’s Congress has already approved the deal. It also needs ratification from Canadian lawmakers.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the meeting with the delegation of House Democrats, led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, “effective.”
He told reporters the next three weeks would be a “decisive phase” for the pact, and that officials would send U.S. lawmakers a document next week detailing the issues discussed on Tuesday, including Mexico’s labor reform.
An impeachment inquiry into Trump, which could delay passage of the USMCA, was not discussed with the delegation, Seade said.
U.S. trade groups on Tuesday pressed lawmakers to approve the deal and not allow the inquiry to postpone it.
Ann Wilson, chief lobbyist for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, said the industry had delayed key investments given continued uncertainty over the agreement a year after it was signed by the three countries’ leaders.
“We don’t have time to waste. We need to get it done,” she said.
Democrats say they are seeking better mechanisms in the trade agreement to ensure enforcement of labor and environmental provisions. One measure under consideration is providing aid to Mexico to beef up its enforcement of labor rules.