Key U.S. House Democrats have expressed unease about certain USMCA provisions, including biologic drugs, and have suggested parts of the pact be renegotiated.
USMCA would ensure 10 years of data exclusivity for biologics developed in North America, which is two less years than what U.S. law provides, but five more years than the required period in Mexico and two more years than the time frame required under Canadian law.
After U.S., Mexican and Canadian leaders signed the USMCA on Nov. 30, Association for Accessible Medicines CEO Chip Davis said his group is “extremely concerned” that the pact will decrease competition for prescription drugs, increasing U.S. drug prices. In a statement, Davis called on U.S. lawmakers to improve the agreement before approval.
But Mexico’s Congress is expected to pass the USMCA with overall support from Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s (AMLO’s) left-wing nationalist party, which holds the majority in the Senate and is responsible in Mexico for passing trade agreements, Barcena said during a Canadian American Business Council (CABC) event in Washington, D.C.
Mexico’s Congress also is set to consider labor reform legislation soon after the Senate finishes current consideration of establishment of Mexico’s national guard, Barcena said.
“We hope that [national guard legislation] gets approved this week, and then we will continue with a debate of other laws that are important for the USMCA, which is the amendment of the labor laws in Mexico,” she said. “The labor law in Mexico was amended in 2017, but then we negotiated USMCA, a new government came into place, a government that’s totally committed to the freedom of association and to respecting unions and to respect the free and secret vote of workers in the election of their leaders.”
USMCA requires all member governments to maintain labor laws protecting workers’ freedom of association, effective recognition of collective bargaining rights and elimination of employment and occupation discrimination, among other protections.
An annex of the pact also outlines specific obligations for each party regarding worker representation in collective bargaining.
After a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in December, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said there are “positive things” in USMCA, but added the pact is “just a list” if it’s not enforceable.
Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, a Canadian union, during the CABC event said his main question about USMCA labor provisions isn’t about the letter of the agreement but rather what will happen if Mexico doesn’t honor obligations such as protecting collective bargaining rights in practice.
“For 25 years, I’ve heard about how [they] have the most progressive labor legislation in Mexico,” he said. “They do have some very progressive labor legislation. They just didn’t have anybody that would enforce it. So I’m glad that there’s a new government regime. … The question all boils down to are they going to do it and is there going to be proper enforceability?”
Jim Blanchard, who was U.S. ambassador to Canada from 1993 to 1996, said his gut instinct is that USMCA will pass the U.S. Congress with some adjustments, noting that USMCA’s advancement faces issues similar to those that confronted NAFTA, which passed the House by a relatively thin margin of 234-200.
As they consider USMCA implementation, U.S. lawmakers have shown they are weighing the general politics of USMCA in Mexico, according to Barcena.
Asked whether she is telling Democrats that USMCA’s six-year sunset review mechanism can potentially address any areas of concern with the pact, Barcena said, “Yes, but my perception, really, until now, particularly with congress[members], is that they have not approached us yet with very specific requests.”
She continued, “They have approached Mexico more in a general interest and curiosity to say, ‘You have a new center-left government. Are you sure you are with USMCA?’ Yes, we are sure. We are certain. We think it’s a good agreement. We will fight for it. We will implement it.”