A bipartisan group of U.S. congressional staff plan to visit Mexican government officials to discuss labor reforms that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said need to be implemented there to gain Democratic support for President Donald Trump’s new Nafta.
Congressional aides involved in the planning next week’s trip said it will help gather information about the recently passed Mexico labor reform legislation, as well as potential opposition that some fear could lead to a rollback of the changes this summer.
The Mexico City visit comes after Trump and Pelosi got into a heated exchange last week when an infrastructure meeting at the White House failed to yield results and the president afterward described the speaker as “a mess” and said his trade deal was too complicated for her to understand.
In what was seen as a positive development, Pelosi this month designated members of her caucus to be working group representatives that focus on issues that her caucus feels have to be addressed before a vote on the trade deal can take place. The working groups, which have yet to be set up, will be tasked with negotiating solutions to those issues with the Trump administration.
Getting to Yes
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been working closely with Pelosi’s caucus to help find a way forward but his work is often undermined by Trump injecting himself in the process publicly as he did last week.
The Mexico mission will include aides from both the Senate and the House and aides who represent both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
A senior congressional aide said it’s a way to show that Democrats are seriously engaged in this process and prepared to work with the Trump administration on getting to yes on the deal. The aide noted that despite last week’s rhetoric, Pelosi has not called off the staff trip to Mexico City, indicating her continued commitment to letting this process play itself out.
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which will replace the existing Nafta, is Trump’s No. 1 legislative priority and one that the White House has been able to work on with a divided Congress.
Reform’s Timing, Resistance
Still, since the USMCA was signed in November, Democrats have identified areas where they want improvements before they can support the deal. They include labor and enforcement as well as environmental and pharmaceutical provisions. Trump removed a major hurdle in the approval process when he lifted steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada this month.
The congressional staff is seeking meetings with Labor Minister Luisa Alcalde and other cabinet members to find out how quickly the reform will be implemented and to gauge how disruptive opposition to the overhaul will become, according to one person with knowledge of the visit. They’re also reaching out to business groups, one person said. The trip is scheduled for the second half of next week, two people said.
There has been some push-back since the law was fast-tracked through congress in April. The head of Mexico’s largest labor union, Senator Carlos Aceves, told local media he’s working with business groups to present a bill that would roll back part of the reform. And local leaders have clinched state-level pacts with pro-business unions that could curb the right to strike.
Alcalde, the labor minister, told Bloomberg last month that strict timelines in the labor law, strong political will from the president, and a working group comprising her ministry, the Finance Ministry, and state governors, will ensure swift enforcement nationwide.
But congressional aides have said they want to see signs that implementation is under way, including financial resources made available for enforcement and evidence that the judicial system can address labor cases involving unfair treatment.
The new law requires workers to vote on unions, union representatives, and labor contracts via a secret ballot. In Mexico, contracts are often clinched behind the backs of workers, granting them little beyond basic legal rights.
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