NAFTA Renegotiation Aims to Bolster Labor Initiatives

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By Tyrone Richardson

U.S. trade officials are expected to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with an emphasis on moving “labor provisions into the core of the agreement,” the U.S. Trade Representative announced July 17.

The nation’s key trade negotiator released its summary of objectives to be eyed during the renegotiation of NAFTA, a required disclosure leading up to the negotiation with Canada and Mexico. The USTR summary promises to include labor provisions in “the core of the Agreement rather than in a side agreement,” according to the document.

NAFTA took effect Jan. 1, 1994. The trade pact has been highly criticized by labor unions and President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to renegotiate trade deals he dubbed unfair and that he said caused U.S. job losses.

“The negotiating objectives also include adding a digital economy chapter and incorporating and strengthening labor and environment obligations that are currently in NAFTA side agreements,” the USTR said in a written statement that accompanies the report. “Additionally, among other objectives, the Administration will work to eliminate unfair subsidies, market-distorting practices by state owned enterprises, and burdensome restrictions on intellectual property.”

The USTR summary comes as labor unions are urging negotiators to focus on stronger labor provisions, enforcement of labor law violations, and rules of origin that dictate how much of a certain product must be made in a participating country to avoid tariffs. The groups have also argued for the elimination of investor state dispute settlement procedures, which unions have dubbed unjust “corporate courts.”

Robert Martinez, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, July 17 told Bloomberg BNA that the union is still reviewing the document.

“We also want to caution that where the objectives are vague, as regarding labor, we will be closely watching to make sure that negotiators do not merely replace NAFTA’s side agreements with the seriously flawed labor provision in TPP,” Martinez said, referring to the Pacific trade agreement that the U.S. backed out of earlier this year. “We reemphasize the critical importance of applying full transparency in these negotiations and making sure that labor has a seat at the table.”

Trump Administration Readying to Renegotiate

The Trump administration is in the midst of a 90-day period to gather information from stakeholders before starting trade talks. Negotiations are expected to begin about Aug. 16.

Some of the USTR summary’s objectives are:

  •   provide access to fair, equitable, and transparent administrative and judicial proceedings;
  •   require NAFTA countries to have laws governing acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health;
  •   ensure that these labor obligations are subject to the same dispute settlement mechanism that applies to other enforceable obligations of the agreement;
  •   require that NAFTA countries take initiatives to prohibit trade in goods produced by forced labor, regardless of whether the source country is a NAFTA country; and
  •   establish a means for stakeholder participation, including through public advisory committees, as well as a process for the public to raise concerns directly with NAFTA governments if they believe a NAFTA country is not meeting its labor commitments.
The report was published hours after House Democrats and some labor union announced they were poised to criticize NAFTA renegotiation if it failed to meet their requirements.

“I would just echo what Trumka has just said, that we want real changes,” and if they’re not in the agreement, “we will oppose it,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said.

DeLauro and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made comments during a July 17 conference call with media. The call included other House Democrats and leaders of the Communications Workers of America and the Machinists union.

House Democrats, Labor Unions to Critique

The leaders said they will not support anything that resembles the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed 12-nation deal that Trump scrapped after taking office.

The TPP had been dubbed an unfair labor agreement largely negotiated behind closed doors.

“To begin with, any renegotiation that starts off with the current trade template found in TPP is unacceptable,” the IAM’s Martinez said.

“Labor provisions, rules of origin, special corporate courts that undermine important food safety and environmental protections, and many other provisions in TPP fall far short of the substantive changes that need to be made in order for trade agreements to begin benefiting working families,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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