Cantwell Introduces Legislation to Provide Technical Assistance for Trade Enforcement Programs

Technical assistance, capacity building programs help grow international trade

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced legislation to provide $75 million to the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Agency for International Development for technical assistance and trade enforcement programs. The funding will help support critical programs and infrastructure to grow trade between the United States and Mexico.

Trade with Mexico is critical for Washington state’s economy:

“In the state of Washington, we export $2 billion worth of goods to Mexico,” Senator Cantwell said. “It accounts for 107,000 jobs in the state of Washington. And when we’re talking about these things, we should be talking about expanding economic opportunity. There’s a big market outside the United States, but we have to have the tools and the enforcement mechanisms to make sure these agreements are lived up to.”

Last week, Cantwell and Representative Suzan DelBene (D, WA-01) sent a letter to United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer urging him to include U.S. technical assistance for labor enforcement programs in Mexico in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“Capacity building is key to strengthening enforcement of labor rights – an essential element of the USMCA. Furthermore, the United States must also have the requisite resources to monitor and enforce the labor obligations in the USMCA in order to protect workers throughout North America,” Cantwell and DelBene wrote to Ambassador Lighthizer. “Whether it be through capacity building support or monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, we need to make clear that the United States is committed to supporting Mexico's labor reform process.”

Senator Cantwell has long prioritized capacity building and technical assistance programs. 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.

She also raised the issue at a Senate Finance Committee hearing earlier this year, questioning Michael Wessel, a staff advisor to the United States Trade Representative and Department of Labor’s Labor Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, about the importance of capacity building assistance:

“Earlier this year, Mexico entered into new labor laws ensuring Mexican workers the right to organize and bargain collectively. And now they have to create their independent labor courts,” Cantwell said at the hearing. “So now they have to implement these reforms. So what do we need to do to build capacity in this area? And don’t we need to put in place enforcement tools to build capacity to protect and enforce labor rights?”

“The market opportunities you’re talking about are enhanced by having workers be able to enjoy their rights so that they are good consumers of our products. So having labor rights in Mexico will enhance opportunities for our exporters of all products,” Wessel replied. “Mexico has a number of things it needs to do on its own, and they have set out a work plan to do some of that… So the U.S. helping on capacity building in Mexico is vital to help those workers who have not had rights or understood their rights for so long… to make sure that we don’t have to go to enforcement where injury has occurred, but that we can build the capacity to be able to make sure the agreement is a success.”