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As U.S.M.C.A. Takes Effect, Much Remains Undone

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s promised rewrite of trade terms between the United States, Canada and Mexico officially goes into effect on Wednesday. But while the president claims victory in reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement, putting its provisions into practice is far from done.

Company executives, government officials and union leaders around the continent have been scrambling to comply with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which overhauls a trade deal that has governed commerce among the three countries for more than 26 years.

The Trump administration and other supporters have welcomed the revised pact as providing much-needed changes to previous trade rules, including bigger incentives to manufacture products in North America, new guidelines for digital trade and stronger labor protections for Mexican workers. And the official start of the new agreement puts to rest much of the uncertainty Mr. Trump created for businesses by repeatedly threatening to walk away from the deal altogether.

But many of the deal’s requirements, like expanding worker rights or opening up the flow of agriculture, have not been fully met, or still need to be phased in over the coming months and years.

Industries as varied as automobiles and agriculture are still struggling to understand recent guidelines from the U.S. government and certify that their products satisfy the trade deal, which requires some industries to buy more materials and components from North America and provide the government detailed information on their sourcing and wages.

The three-country pact, which was reached after more than two years of negotiations, sought to change Mexico’s labor rules to ensure that workers had the freedom to form unions and bargain for better wages. But those changes are still winding their way through the Mexican legal system, under threat from powerful companies and politicians. American labor leaders warn that the deal’s protections for workers — which made it a model trade agreement in the eyes of Democrats and were largely responsible for winning their support — could still falter.

Michael Wessel, the staff chairman of the Labor Advisory Committee that counsels the administration on trade issues, said that while much public attention had focused on the drama of negotiating the U.S.M.C.A., “the really hard work of making the provisions effective, ensuring that workers’ rights are advanced and that the competitive landscape changes is ahead of us.”

“Making sure we don’t lose sight, and action, on the changes that need to be implemented, monitored and enforced will be a day-by-day fight,” Mr. Wessel added.

“Today as #USMCA enters into force, many improvements must be made to fulfill its promises,” Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, wrote on Twitter. “We will fight to ensure that the #USMCA doesn’t become another #NAFTA.”

The Trump administration has taken an aggressive approach to rewriting and enforcing trade rules. The U.S.M.C.A., a comprehensive deal that covers the country’s most important trading partners, is the biggest test so far of Mr. Trump’s ability to change global trade terms in America’s favor.

Administration officials say they are gearing up to use the new deal as a way to challenge Canadian and Mexican business practices that harm American interests.

In a congressional hearing on June 17, Robert E. Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, said that he had pushed to have the agreement go into effect on July 1, even during a pandemic, so that the new rules could be enforced. In a sign of how fraught the new trade deal could be, Mr. Lighthizer said the United States was looking at a number of issues “that are quite troubling.”

Like many Democrats, Mr. Lighthizer has criticized America’s past trade agreements for both enabling American factories to move overseas and lacking tools to crack down on those who would violate the rules. Over months of negotiations with Canada, Mexico and congressional Democrats, Mr. Lighthizer forged a coalition and worked out changes to the trade deal that won broad bipartisan support.

That included sweeping changes to Mexico’s labor system, which would try to break the corrupt unions that help many companies control their workers in Mexico, and replace them with freely organized unions that could negotiate better wages and working conditions. That in turn would benefit American workers, by giving them a more level playing field to compete.

Mr. Lighthizer pointed to Mexico’s refusal to accept American biotech products — like genetically modified corn and other crops — as one area where the United States could bring a case under the new trade deal. Mexico’s labor reforms and treatment of American media companies are also garnering U.S. scrutiny. Mr. Lighthizer told lawmakers that his agency would take action “early and often” to combat violations of the agreement’s labor rules, which are meant to improve wages and working conditions, particularly in Mexico.

Mr. Lighthizer also indicated that the United States, which won access to Canada’s dairy market as part of the deal, was monitoring that sector for potential violations of the agreement. And the administration is considering renewing tariffs on Canadian aluminum exports.

Another new part of U.S.M.C.A. that was crucial for winning the support of Democrats and labor leaders was its “enforcement provisions,” which give governments, unions and workers the ability to report violations of the agreement, and to try to seek redress.

One of these systems allows the countries to bring cases against one another about labor rights or a wide variety of other issues. Another fast-acting, labor-specific system allows unions, workers and other parties to report labor violations, which may lead to factory inspections and even products from the offending company being blocked at the U.S. border.

“We’ve always talked about agreements that don’t have teeth, and this one has some teeth,” said Ben Davis, the director of international affairs for the United Steelworkers union. “Maybe not a full mouthful, maybe not as sharp as we need it, but it has some teeth, and we’re all waiting to see how that plays out.”

Mr. Lighthizer has said that these provisions will help to reverse a long-running trend, where manufacturers have moved out of the United States to take advantage of lower wages and laxer working conditions in Mexico.

“It wasn’t economics in my judgment, it was industrial policy down there,” Mr. Lighthizer said in the June 17 hearing, about companies outsourcing to Mexico. “We’ve turned that around.” Congressional Democrats and labor leaders say it’s too early for the Trump administration to declare victory, pointing to Mexico’s half-finished labor reforms.

At that hearing, Richard E. Neal, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, said there had been “serious deficiencies” in how Mexico was enacting its labor reforms.

“We’re going to hold people’s feet to the fire,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and one of the Democratic negotiators.

Mexico passed a sweeping labor law in 2019 aimed at meeting the pledges it had made to Canada and the United States in its new trade deal by giving workers more ability to organize and bargain. But since the labor law was passed, violence against Mexican labor activists has continued, and hundreds of lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of these reforms.

If the Mexican Supreme Court rules that the labor law is unconstitutional, Mexico could be in violation of a major portion of the trade pact, and could face tariffs or other punitive actions from the United States and Canada.

Union leaders are preparing a list of labor cases they could bring under the new agreement’s dispute settlement provisions, including that of a Mexican labor lawyer, Susana Prieto Terrazas, who was arrested while trying to establish an independent union. But it remains to be seen what kind of punishment the independent panels that review these cases could hand down, if any.

“Implementation is only as good as they’re willing to enforce it,” said Representative Jimmy Gomez, Democrat of California. “We’re going to be paying attention, very closely, to how the agreement is implemented.”

“The promise of the U.S.M.C.A. is that it was righting the wrongs of NAFTA,” he added. “But if they’re not willing to use it, or if they’re taking steps to undermine it, then it’s for naught.”

For companies that are scrambling to comply with the trade pact’s voluminous rules for how they source their products and share information with the government, much remains uncertain as well.

Many businesses that were working to enact the changes required by the U.S.M.C.A. had to put everything on hold for the pandemic, said Richard Mojica, a lawyer with Miller & Chevalier’s International practice. Companies have also been trying to digest hundreds of pages of new detailed industry guidance, which the administration only released in June.

“It’s absolutely a scramble,” Mr. Mojica said.

Ann Wilson, the senior vice president for government affairs at the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, which represents auto parts suppliers, said companies were facing significant costs to meet the new rules at a particularly trying time, in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession.

“Many of these companies are still laying off people, furloughing people, and they’re still trying to grapple with these requirements,” Ms. Wilson said.

But companies will have a grace period to adapt to the new regulations.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which monitors imports at American ports, has already indicated that, for the next six months, it will focus on helping companies to meet the rules, rather than punishing them if they unwittingly break them.

“I think both parties are going to be learning for a while,” Mr. Mojica said.

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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Trump Defends China Trade Deal After Adviser Says It’s ‘Over’

WASHINGTON — The White House trade adviser, Peter Navarro, said on Monday night that the trade deal between the United States and China was “over,” briefly causing stock markets to dive before he and President Trump quickly walked back the remarks.

“The China Trade Deal is fully intact,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter after Mr. Navarro, a noted China critic, had appeared on Fox News. “Hopefully they will continue to live up to the terms of the Agreement!”

The events underscored the sensitivity of the “Phase 1” trade deal that the United States and China signed in January, which buoyed stock markets and brought to a close a prolonged and bruising trade war. But tensions have been rising sharply between the two countries over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and China’s assertion of power over Hong Kong, putting that pact into an increasingly precarious position.

Mr. Trump’s tweet was his firmest defense of his signature trade deal in weeks. While some of the president’s advisers believe that he has little to gain politically from scrapping it, others have said that his dissatisfaction with China is growing, raising the question of whether the United States would challenge China’s compliance with the pact.

Mr. Trump has also turned increasingly critical of China because of the spread of the coronavirus, which originated in a city there, and its damaging effects on the United States economy. And agricultural groups that were intended to benefit from the trade deal have complained to the Trump administration that China is lagging significantly behind targets in its promised purchases of farm goods, and that Chinese buyers are bypassing American soybeans for Brazilian ones.

But in testimony before Congress last week, Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative and the deal’s primary architect, forcefully defended China’s progress in fulfilling the pact. He said that he was in frequent contact with Chinese officials and that they were working hard to live up to their agreements.

“Every indication is that in spite of this Covid-19, they are going to do what they say,” Mr. Lighthizer said.

In an interview on Monday evening, Martha MacCallum of Fox News asked Mr. Navarro about the president’s desire to maintain the deal as long as possible. “He wanted them to make good on the promises because there had been progress made on that trade deal, but given everything that’s happened and all the things you just listed, is that over?” she asked.

“It’s over. Yes,” Mr. Navarro responded, adding that the “turning point” was China’s failure to warn the United States about the dangers of the coronavirus, which was spreading even as they concluded the pact.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 22, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.