Mexican president woos US Democrats to back trade deal

Mexico City (AFP) –


Mexico's president vowed to increase workers' wages and amply fund a labor-reform package in a letter Thursday aimed at winning reluctant US Democrats' backing for the new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had a top envoy hand-deliver the letter to US Congressman Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, in a bid to woo his support for the updated deal meant to replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In the letter, the leftist leader vowed to "continue increasing wages by at least two percentage points above the inflation rate each year" for the duration of his term, which ends in 2024.

He said his government would ask the Mexican Congress to allocate more than $69 million this year to create new labor institutions and implement key worker-protection reforms passed in April as part of Mexico's commitments under the new deal, known as USMCA.

Mexico, which sends 80 percent of its exports to the United States, has watched nervously as the process of ratifying the deal has slowed in the US amid pre-election politics and President Donald Trump's impeachment battle.

Neal led a delegation of congressional Democrats to Mexico City on October 8 to voice reservations about aspects of the agreement, which Trump is pushing hard to ratify.

Trump's Democratic opponents say they are skeptical about Mexico's commitment to improving labor conditions for its workers, whose low wages have made it hard for American workers to compete in the free-trade area.

Neal and his delegation had grilled the Lopez Obrador administration on an apparent lack of funding to implement the April labor reform package.

In his letter, Lopez Obrador insisted on his commitment to bettering conditions for Mexican workers, calling it "a core issue for my government."

After receiving it, Neal said in a statement he was "very pleased with Mexico's demonstration of good faith."

Lopez Obrador also wrote a letter earlier this month to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- the top Democrat holding the keys to the USMCA's future -- requesting her support for the deal.

Of the three countries, Mexico is the only one whose legislature has ratified the USMCA so far.