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US labor unions say NAFTA replacement does not go far enough for workers

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U.S. labor officials on Tuesday pressed lawmakers to strengthen enforcement of the provisions of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) intended to protect workers, the latest sign that the trade deal could face hurdles to passage in the Democrat-led House of Representatives.

Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was one of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises and part of his broader push for better terms of trade for the United States. He has said that bad deals have cost millions of jobs.

Representatives from some of the largest and most influential unions in the United States told lawmakers on Tuesday that the reworked pact does not go far enough to ensure improvement of wages and working conditions, especially for Mexican workers.

“All the NAFTA renegotiation efforts in the world will not create U.S. jobs, raise U.S. wages or reduce the U.S. trade deficit if the new rules do not include clear, strong and effective labor rules that require Mexico to abandon its low wage policy,” Celeste Drake of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations said at a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.

In late 2018, the leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada signed the deal to replace NAFTA, but it has yet to be reviewed and ratified by Congress. Trade among the three countries totals more than $1 trillion.

Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives in January, have traditionally been skeptical of free trade agreements and sympathetic to labor groups. Their support is essential to USMCA’s passage.

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USMCA requires its three signatories to maintain labor laws in line with international standards, and to enforce them. But critics have called the agreement’s enforcement mechanism insufficient, saying it will still allow weak unions and resulting low wages in Mexico, while failing to stanch the flight of U.S. factories to lower-cost Mexico.

NAFTA, launched in 1994, put labor provisions in an unenforceable addendum to the agreement, allowing Mexican wages to stagnate despite a flood of factory investment from U.S. companies.

“The (USMCA) labor chapter is an improvement. The problem is the enforceability mechanism,” said Shane Larson, a director with the Communications Workers of America, advocating for reopening the agreement.

Autoworkers, too, are concerned about the new agreement, despite provisions aimed at requiring more vehicle value content produced in North America and in high-wage areas in the United States and Canada.

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USMCA “takes some positive steps but doesn’t measure up to being able to make more good-paying jobs now and going forward,” said Josh Nassar, legislative director of the United Auto Workers union.

The imposition of NAFTA led to decades of lost jobs for autoworkers, who watched U.S. factories close as manufacturers moved production to Mexico.

House Democrats have greeted USMCA coolly, telling U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer earlier this month about their concerns about labor enforcement and provisions that could lock in higher drug prices.

“This agreement is a continuation of the assault on the American middle class,” Brian Higgins, a Democratic representative from New York, said on Tuesday at the hearing.

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The Trump administration is lobbying to persuade Congress to ratify USMCA this year. Trump visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with Senate Republicans, and was due to discuss the trade pact with House Republicans later in the afternoon.

Reporting by Chris Prentice in New York and David Lawder in Washington; editing by Simon Webb and Steve Orlofsky

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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Retired admiral could pose serious threat if he decides to run against Iowa Republican: report

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On Wednesday, Iowa Starting Line reported that Ret. Adm. Michael Franken is in talks with state and national Democrats about challenging GOP Sen. Joni Ernst.

Franken, who has served as Deputy for Military Operations for AFRICOM, Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, and Chief of Legislative Affairs for the Department of the Navy, hails from Sioux Center, a town in the deeply conservative northwest part of the state.

Ernst, who first gained national attention for her 2014 campaign ad about castrating hogs, is a reliable vote for President Donald Trump in the Senate, and the president's poor approval ratings in Iowa have left Democrats hopeful that they can defeat her.

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‘This American dream’: Pain overwhelms family of drowned migrants

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"They had this American dream," sobbed Rosa Ramirez after images of her drowned son and granddaughter, discovered face-down on the banks of the Rio Grande between Mexico and the United States, shocked the world on Wednesday.

The poignant pictures of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his toddler daughter Valeria -- not yet two years old -- has sparked outrage back home in El Salvador, where around 200 migrants like them leave for the United States daily, preparing to take similar risks.

"The pain has been immense. I still can't believe that my boy and my little granddaughter are dead, they only wanted to get to the United States.... they had this American dream -- to achieve a better life," Oscar's mother told AFP.

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Venezuela government says thwarted attempted ‘coup’

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Venezuela's socialist government said Wednesday it had derailed an attempted coup, claiming the United States, Colombia and Chile colluded in a military plot to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro and install a general and former defense minister in his place.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the plan involved active and retired army officers and was to have been executed between Sunday and Monday this past weekend.

"We were in all the meetings to plan the coup d'Etat. We were in all the conferences," Rodriguez said, suggesting that government informers had infiltrated the alleged plotters during planning meetings.

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