WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A dozen Democratic lawmakers on Thursday faulted the Trump administration for not cracking down on repeated Colombian labor violations under a bilateral trade pact, saying the failure to do so fueled concerns about enforcement of the new NAFTA deal.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has consistently failed to prioritize labor issues, Earl Blumenauer, chairman of the trade subcommittee of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, and other prominent Democrats told U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a letter.
The Trump administration had failed to take any action against Colombia for failing to abide by labor commitments under the 2012 U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, they said, despite a host of issues documented by labor leaders and the U.S. Department of Labor.
The administration also downplayed labor issues during recent negotiations about Colombia’s access to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the members of the congressional Colombia Monitoring Group said in the letter.
“The situation in Colombia highlights the systemic problems we face in enforcing our trade agreements across the board,” the lawmakers wrote, saying the Trump administration’s failure to act had reduced pressure on the Colombian government.
“This necessarily raises grave concerns about the lack of enforcement tools in the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement and the administration’s repeated attempts to drastically cut funding for the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs,” they said.
The Trump administration is pressing Congress to ratify a U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, known as the USMCA, that will replace the NAFTA pact in effect since 1994.
Mexico has ratified the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, and Canada is on track to do so, but Democrats in the U.S. Congress have threatened to hold up ratification over labor and environmental concerns.
Blumenauer told reporters on Wednesday that ensuring adequate enforcement was a key requirement for Democrats to approve the new trade pact with Canada and Mexico.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and Colombian trade unions filed a petition in 2016 complaining that Colombia had not lived up to its labor commitments under the U.S.-Colombian trade deal.
The U.S. Department of Labor in January 2017 also cited “significant concerns” about those issues, and appointed a labor attache to monitor progress, but there had been no real action since then, the lawmakers said.
No comment was immediately available from Lighthizer’s office.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal, editing by G Crosse