Third round of NAFTA talks hits on labor, Mexican trucking

By Sandi Soendker, Land Line editor-in-chief | 9/29/2017

U.S., Mexico and Canada trade officials wrapped up the third round of deliberations on the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement this week in Ottawa, Ontario. Mexico’s labor standards emerged as a predictable battleground in the NAFTA arena, and Mexican trucking grabbed attention, too.

OOIDA, Teamsters Canada and their American counterparts were part of a diverse coalition that was in Ottawa to advocate for workers. In a statement this week, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa and Teamsters Canada President Francois Laporte thanked Johanne Couture, OOIDA Board Member from Brockville, Ontario; John McCann, National Director of Teamsters Canada Freight Division; David Froelich, Director of Teamsters Canada Dairy Division.

“All three individuals helped bring the concerns of workers directly to the attention of negotiators during this round of talks,” Hoffa and LaPorte said in a joint statement.

The coalition demanded that labor and Mexican trucking be addressed.

“In partnership with six Teamsters leaders, we met with two Canadian representatives taking part in the NAFTA 2.0 negotiations,” Couture said. “Collectively we made detailed points concerning our position on cross-border trucking, voicing our concerns on safety, compliance and wages.”

Canadian negotiators were urged to work with the U.S. “to fix the mistake of including long-haul trucking in the original NAFTA and briefed on suggested language that would provide a level playing field, ensure a safe trucking fleet on highways and improve working conditions and wages for Mexican drivers.”

Couture said the next round of negotiations may include follow up on cross-border trucking.

While Canada’s labor standards proposal got the nod from labor unions, the U.S. proposal didn’t impress them much.

The U.S. presented a detailed proposal that ensures enforceable provision on labor, a provision lacking in the old NAFTA, but the takeaway for some indicates that doesn’t go far enough.

U.S. Congressman Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) attended the meeting in Ottawa and on Monday, was back in Washington to report to the Council of Foreign Relations.

“The Mexican industrial policy of suppressing wages completely distorts any notion of comparative advantage – that if each country concentrates on what it does best, every country and its people will benefit. Mexico’s so-called ‘comparative advantage’ not only condemns numerous Mexican workers to working in or near poverty, but it lowers wages and rips away jobs from workers in the United States, especially in the auto industry.”

Negotiators remain on accelerated path
After closing the third round of talks, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Mexican Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer released a joint statement. The partners noted significant progress continues to be made in numerous other areas, including competition policy, digital trade, state-owned enterprises, customs, and telecommunications. 

The NAFTA partners reported they remain committed to an accelerated timeline.

Lighthizer’s closing statement emphasized “just how big this is,” acknowledging the six or seven hundred people from the three governments who have spent full days and long weekends working of this issue.

“This is hundreds and hundreds of pages of very technical, technical work that covers really almost the entire of all of our economies, in one way or another,” he said.

One of the successes of the third round in Ottawa was the work done on the NAFTA chapter of small- and medium-sized enterprises. “These businesses are the engines that drive each of our economies,” Lighthizer said.

The fourth round of talks is scheduled for Oct. 11-15, in Washington, D.C.

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