Tip Sheets

Labor disputes take center stage as US, Mexico and Canada talk trade

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli

Trade representatives from the U.S., Mexico and Canada are meeting virtually today to continue discussions about implementation of the new North American trade deal, the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). Significant emphasis will shift to labor provisions, which have developed into points of contention as countries struggle to unify their approaches to emerging disputes. 

Desirée LeClercq is a professor of employment law at Cornell and an expert on labor provisions in trade agreements. She spent seven years at the ILO, where she advised various governments and the EU on how to draft and implement their trade agreements’ labor chapters. She is available for interviews about this week’s meetings.  

Desirée LeClercq 

Proskauer Employment and Labor Law Assistant Professor

“Broadly, many labor and environmental advocates hope that the FTC represents an opportunity for the USMCA parties to discuss amending the agreement, which was negotiated under the Trump administration, to strengthen its current labor and environmental provisions and align its enforcement with the Biden administration’s pro-worker policy objectives.

“According to the United States Trade Representative’s readout of the FTC meeting, Ambassador Katherine Tai and Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Titiana Clouthier spent some of their meeting discussing ‘Mexico’s implementation of its historic labor reforms.’ We should expect the parties to discuss USTR’s recent self-initiated request under USMCA’s Faculty-Specific Rapid Response Labor Mechanism, which the United States submitted to Mexico on May 12, 2021. In its request, USTR noted allegations that a GM facility in Mexico allegedly tampered and interfered with a contract ratification election, in violation of Mexico’s new labor reforms. However, according to USTR’s request, Mexico has also initiated its own domestic review of those allegations and has suspended the election. We should watch this space closely to see how Mexico reacts to potential interference with its efforts to enact its new reforms. 

“Second, owing to a last-minute footnote added to USMCA by the Trump Administration, less than 12-13 U.S. employers per year become vulnerable to enforcement under the USMCA’s Faculty-Specific Rapid Response Labor Mechanism. That figure sharply contrasts with the significant number of Mexican employers who are already subject to enforcement. It will also be interesting to see whether Ambassador Tai and Secretary Clouthier discuss the possibility of amending the USMCA to clarify that U.S. employers are equally subject to the Rapid Response Mechanism. 

“Finally, on the environment side, Ambassador Tai has pledged to strengthen the sustainability provisions in U.S. trade agreements. Many environmental advocates are urging the States Parties to amend USMCA to include the Paris Agreement in USMCA’s Environmental Chapter. In her discussions with Canada, in particular, it will be interesting to see whether the parties address that omission and the possibility of amending USMCA’s environmental provisions.”

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.