Efforts to combat forced labor will be a feature of the ongoing implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that replaced NAFTA in 2020. Broadening the benefits of the agreement will be a focus of the three partner countries as well.

The USMCA prohibits member countries from importing goods produced, in whole or in part, by forced labor. During the first USMCA Free Trade Commission meeting May 18, trade ministers added that they will work together “to promote a fair, rules-based international trading system where products made with forced labor do not enter the trading system.”

The ministers also highlighted their interest in ensuring that the USMCA “benefits those that have historically been left behind by trade agreements.” For example, at the first USMCA small and medium-sized enterprise dialogue to be held this October in the U.S., government officials will “engage directly with a diverse group of small business stakeholders, including those owned by women, indigenous peoples, and other underrepresented groups” to discuss this topic. The three countries will also “explore new approaches to better engage with under-represented communities on trade issues.”

In remarks prior to the meeting, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said these efforts are part of a broader push she is making to create “a worker-centric trade policy.” While she offered no further details on what that policy might look like, she indicated that it will differ from the historical focus on “global value chains as a proxy for maximizing efficiency.” Not only have recent events highlighted the fragility of these chains, Tai said, “but we have just begun to appreciate the degree to which they run counter to our collective goals of ensuring that workers within North America, and outside it, are paid a fair wage, in a safe workplace.” She therefore pledged to ensure that workers and environmentalists, not just businesses, have “pride of place in influencing trade agreements.”

On environmental issues, ministers committed to increase law enforcement cooperation, in particular in the areas of wildlife trafficking and illegal logging and associated trade. They also raised the possibility of deeper cooperation on trade-related climate change measures.

The ministers noted that committees have been meeting virtually since last year to discuss implementation of specific USMCA provisions, including on origin and origin procedures, textiles and apparel, trade facilitation, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, transportation, financial services, intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises, competitiveness, and good regulatory practices. In addition, a trade deputies meeting is planned before the end of 2021 to assess progress and identify opportunities for future engagement.

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