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Will NAFTA 2.0 Have Any Teeth?

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Supposedly, revised NAFTA gives labor groups some power to enforce regulations. I am extremely skeptical this will happen in reality. We are all about to find out.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other groups filed a complaint with the Biden administration on Monday over claims of labor violations at a group of auto parts factories in Mexico, a move that will pose an early test of the new North American trade deal and its labor protections.

The complaint focuses on the Tridonex auto parts factories in the city of Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. said workers there have been harassed and fired over their efforts to organize with an independent union, SNITIS, in place of a company-controlled union. Susana Prieto Terrazas, a Mexican labor lawyer and SNITIS leader, was arrested and jailed last year in an episode that received significant attention.

The trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, was negotiated by the Trump administration to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and took effect last summer. While it was negotiated by a Republican administration, the deal had significant input from congressional Democrats, who controlled the House and insisted on tougher labor and environmental standards in order to vote in favor of the pact, which needed approval from Congress.

The trade pact required Mexico to make sweeping changes to its labor system, where sham collective bargaining agreements known as protection contracts, which are imposed without the involvement of employees and lock in low wages, have been prevalent.

The complaint is being brought under a novel “rapid response” mechanism in the trade deal that allows for complaints about labor violations to be brought against an individual factory and for penalties to be applied to that factory. The complaint was filed by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Service Employees International Union, SNITIS and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

“U.S.M.C.A. requires Mexico to end the reign of protection unions and their corrupt deals with employers,” Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in a statement, using the abbreviation for the trade deal. “The ongoing harassment of Susana Prieto and SNITIS members is a textbook violation of the labor laws Mexico has pledged to uphold.”

This is a real test of the Biden administration’s commitment to labor rights. We know that Biden is pro-union. But the vast majority of work is non-union. Much of it has been shipped overseas. If these trade deals are going to be anything more than an excuse to allow companies to exploit to the maximum possible potential, they have to have real teeth. And then the teeth have to bite. Will Biden chomp if it angers Mexico and corporations?

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