Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the need to improve salaries and working conditions in Mexico as part of the modernization of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in a wide-ranging address to the Senate today.
On the second and final day of his first state visit to the country, Trudeau told senators and deputies at the joint sitting that improvements were essential to achieving a new deal that would stand the test of time.
“We must ensure that workers are protected by progressive labor standards,” he argued.
“Progressive labor standards are how we ensure that a modernized NAFTA will not just bolster free and fair trade but will enjoy long lasting popular support . . . . We must pursue trade agreements that are win-win-win, helping workers across North America achieve better standards, wages and working conditions.”
Wages have been a contentious issue in NAFTA renegotiation talks because salaries are much lower in Mexico compared to its two northern neighbors, and the U.S. especially has argued that it places its automotive and other manufacturing industries at a distinct disadvantage.
While it is unclear whether Trudeau raised the issue directly with the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto said last night “Mexico doesn’t want to be competitive based on low wages, Mexico wants to be competitive on the basis of skilled labor.”
In his Senate speech, Trudeau also talked up the relationship between Mexico and Canada: “Our bilateral ties are stronger than ever, our economies are closely integrated, we stand together on the world stage and we have a shared vision of progress . . . last year we did $40 billion in two-way trade.”
He thanked Mexico for its leadership on climate change and for supporting the inclusion of a section in a new NAFTA deal that recognizes the specific importance of women in the labor market as well as their rights.
“We must move the needle forward on gender equality, this is an idea that all nations of the world should get behind,” he said.
“This is why Canada is so appreciative of Mexico’s support for a gender chapter in the modernization of NAFTA . . . this is a progressive step forward that we can’t afford not to take.”
However, Trudeau quickly changed the tone of the speech, saying, “we still have work to do, notably as it relates to human rights.”
“Just yesterday, I met with civil society leaders here in Mexico City and I heard stories about the treatment of women and girls that are unacceptable,” he said.
According to those he met, Trudeau asked for a security assessment of the country and was particularly interested in the Ayotzinapa case involving the disappearance of 43 rural teaching students and gender-based violence, while he also reportedly asked how Canada could help.
“. . . We talked about issues like violence, corruption, impunity and serious violations [of human rights],” said Mario Patrón, director of Center Prodh, a human rights defense group.
Security specialist Ernesto López Portillo said Trudeau wanted to speak to them before he met President Peña Nieto so that he could relay their message to him, although he stressed that Trudeau was insistent that Canada wanted to help rather than tell Mexico what to do.
After the meeting, Trudeau attended an official reception at the National Palace where he met with Peña Nieto and other government officials before meeting with Mexican firefighters to personally thank them for their efforts fighting wildfires in Canada earlier this year.
Trudeau concluded his Senate address with an emphatic, “Viva Canadá y viva México” that was met with rapturous applause, indicative of his popularity both among politicians and the general population in Mexico.
Prior to his address, Senate president Ernesto Cordero thanked Trudeau for his support in the aftermath of last month’s two devastating earthquakes and stressed the importance and closeness of the bilateral relationship.
He also said that the NAFTA renegotiation talks were an opportunity to show the world that the three North American countries are stronger together.
“Neither Mexico nor Canada is a problem for the United States or any other country. Together the three countries are the solution,” Cordero said.
Source: Reforma (sp)