US labour opposes USMCA in current form, says union chief

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addresses the Economic Club of Washington in Washington April 23, 2019. — AFP pic
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addresses the Economic Club of Washington in Washington April 23, 2019. — AFP pic

WASHINGTON, April 24 — The head of the largest US labour union said yesterday he opposes ratification of the new North American free trade pact, because he doubts Mexico will enforce labour reforms required by the deal.

Richard Trumka, president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO, said the US Congress is unlikely to approve the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement until Mexico makes greater progress.

“If they get the labour laws changed in accordance with the agreement, then they have to show us that they have the infrastructure and the resources to be able to do that,” Trumka said during a discussion hosted by the Economic Club of Washington.

Washington, Ottawa and Mexico City signed a treaty in November to modernise the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, requiring far-reaching reforms to Mexican labour laws, among other changes.

But the agreement faces an uphill battle toward ratification in Congress. Opposition Democrats have voiced concerns similar to Trumka's, and a key Senate Republican has demanded that US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports be lifted before any vote, something President Donald Trump is reluctant to do.

Trumka told reporters he also is opposed to tariffs on Mexican and Canadian metal imports.

“We think that tariffs ought to be used to go after violators and quite frankly neither one of the two countries were violating the agreement,” he said.

Mexican lawmakers have advanced legislation to meet obligations under the USMCA.

But Trumka said he was confident implementing legislation would not advance in Congress if concerns such as his were not addressed.

He claimed “sham unions” affiliated with the government in Mexico had negotiated 700,000 illegitimate labour contracts designed to suppress wages in that country.

“That means that they'll have to change 175,000 (contracts) a year over the four years that they've been given in the agreement and they'll have to have 175,000 elections,” he said.

“We want to see their ability to do that,” he said.

Some changes could be addressed in implementing legislation and others could require reopening the trade talks, he said.

The independent US International Trade Commission released an analysis last week estimating the agreement would add a modest 0.35 percent a year to US GDP once the agreement was fully implemented in six years.

But this could come at the cost of higher prices and reduced sales and output in the auto sector, a position contradicted by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and auto industry representatives. — AFP

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