One of the focuses of the upcoming meeting between U.S. House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will be easing concerns among Democrats about the CUSMA trade deal, a source tells Global News.
But the government remains open to tweaks or side letters to the deal if that would finally get it ratified south of the border.
Speaking on background, the government source said any changes proposed by the Democrats would need to come to Freeland directly from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and that the main focus of the meeting will be to try to assure Neal and his caucus colleagues that the labour provisions in the new NAFTA are strong enough to protect workers — which is why Employment Minister Patty Hajdu will also be among those present in the meeting with Neal.
A second source expressed similar views, adding that Trudeau technically does not need to meet Neal since his main counterpoint would normally be Freeland — but that Trudeau will greet Neal in a bid to make it clear to Democrats the importance he places on the renegotiated deal and its progressive elements.
Neal, a Democrat, chairs the committee that will be the first the examine any ratification of the trade deal and will be on Parliament Hill on Wednesday morning for a photo op and meeting to discuss the renegotiated NAFTA.
He will be joined by three others: Brendan Boyle (a Democrat from Pennsylvania), Suzan DelBene (a Democrat from Washington State) and Drew Ferguson (a Republican from Georgia).
Although the deal was signed in November 2018 after roughly a year of renegotiation talks sparked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to tear up NAFTA, it has not yet been ratified by Canada or the United States.
Mexico is the only party to have done so.
Freeland has said Canada will move “in tandem” with the U.S. on ratification, but since the midterm elections handed control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats, members of that party have been raising concerns that the deal does not do enough to enforce labour standards, particularly in Mexico.
That subject was a focus of a trip by Hajdu earlier this year to Mexico City.
In July, she met with Mexican Secretary of Labour and Social Welfare Luisa María Alcalde to talk about how Mexico was doing on implementing the labour standard reforms laid out in the new NAFTA deal, which included a requirement for Mexico to change its laws to support the creation of unions but did not include any means of enforcing that requirement.
Neal was also in Mexico last month and has said the Democrats are looking for written assurances that Mexico will put the proper resources and rules in place to make sure labour standards in that country are increased and do not result in work leaving the U.S.
He said in an interview with American media following that trip that he had received “verbal assurances” that those enforcement mechanisms would be added but needed to see it written down before Democrats would agree the enforcement was adequate.
Neal said in that same interview that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had also promised to allocate more financial resources for courts to handle labour disputes as well as for independent inspections of labour standards and workplaces.