Cantwell Highlights Importance of Trade with Mexico, Opportunities to Increase Washington Exports

Cantwell: U.S. must support Mexican efforts to improve workers’ rights, strengthen enforcement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the Trump administration seeks ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, today emphasized the importance of trade with Mexico and enhancing opportunities for exporters in Washington by helping Mexico to better protect and enforce labor rights. 

“In the state of Washington, we export $2 billion worth of goods to Mexico. It probably accounts for 107,000 jobs in our state,” Senator Cantwell said at a Finance Committee hearing today. “When we’re talking about these things, we should be talking about expanding economic opportunity.” 

In 2018, $3.7 billion in goods were traded between Washington state and Mexico, the second largest export market for Washington apples, representing $127 million in exports last year. By helping Mexico build capacity to protect and enforce labor rights, Mexico will be in a better position to fulfill its labor commitments under the USMCA. 

Senator Cantwell is working with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) to give the U.S. and Mexican governments better tools to identify where labor violations are occurring and better target enforcement actions. The Brown-Wyden framework envisions resources to monitor Mexico’s progress, to help with efforts in Mexico to implement the labor reforms and make the progress it is seeking, and to take enforcement action if necessary. 

“Having labor rights in Mexico will enhance opportunities for our exporters of all products,” said Michael Wessel, Staff Chair to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, at today’s hearing. “There’s so much more infrastructure that can be put in place in Mexico to make sure that the workers understand, have the access, and know how to interact with their hopefully free trade unions and their government.” 

Earlier this year, Mexico enacted an important new labor law that ensures the rights of Mexican workers to organize and enter into collective bargaining agreements. The new law creates independent labor courts and a Federal Labor Conciliation and Registration Center. Mexico is working to implement these reforms, but they need help and have asked for international assistance. 

“There’s a big market outside the United States,” Cantwell continued today. “We have to have the tools and the teams to make sure these agreements are lived up to.” 

Senator Cantwell’s remarks today come as she continues to advocate for foreign trade policies that support local businesses, economies, and communities throughout Washington state and around the country. In 2015, she worked to create the Trade Enforcement Trust Fund, which provides resources for enforcement actions and helps agencies in charge of enforcing international trade agreements build capacity with trading partners on environmental, labor, intellectual property, and other issues. 

Earlier this year, Cantwell pressed Ambassador Lighthizer directly to include strong trade enforcement mechanisms in the USMCA. In March, Cantwell and Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA-4) asked Lighthizer to work with Japan to resolve technical issues and remove barriers to allow Washington state apples access to Japanese markets. Cantwell has been a leading voice in calling on the administration to address trade retaliation affecting the Washington state economy and recently secured a provision to help cherry growers hurt by the unjustified retaliatory tariffs by China get access to aid.