Mexico urges US to ratify trade deal after passing labor reform

Mexico City (AFP) –


Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday urged the United States to ratify the countries' new trade agreement with Canada after Mexico passed labor reforms demanded by its partners.

"Now it's up to the United States government, to the US legislators, to finish approving the free-trade agreement," Lopez Obrador told a news conference, referring to the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which was signed in November and must now be ratified by all three countries' legislatures.

He made the comment after Mexico's Senate passed reforms Monday night intended to boost protections for Mexican workers and increase their wages -- something the US and Canada demanded in updating the three countries' 1994 trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, President Donald Trump's top negotiator on the new deal, meanwhile praised Mexico's reform as "historic," and vowed the administration would work with Congress and the Mexican government to ensure it was implemented.

NAFTA has helped turn Mexico into an exporting powerhouse, thanks largely to US companies that have moved all or part of their production south of the border to take advantage of cheap labor.

Critics in the United States and Canada complain Mexico's weak union system and low minimum wage give it an unfair advantage and exploit Mexican workers.

In the US, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said Congress could not even consider the new trade agreement until Mexico had passed new labor laws.

The reform, which overhauls more than 650 regulations and five laws, aims to give workers more say in decision-making by Mexico's unions, which are plagued by corruption and a history of back-room deals with management and government.

Passed by the lower house on April 11, it also establishes a new system for resolving disputes between workers and employers.

President Lopez Obrador has already increased the minimum wage by more than 16 percent, from $4.65 a day to $5.40 a day -- rising to $9.30 a day along the US-Mexican border, where many international factories are located.

However, critics say Mexican workers still typically earn less in a day than US and Canadian workers in an hour. And unions in both countries have questioned Mexico's capacity to implement the reform.

That has set up a potentially fierce political battle over ratification, especially with opposition Democrats in control of the House of Representatives in the United States since last year's mid-term elections.