Trade economist Thea Lee named U.S. Labor Dept international chief

WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Labor Department on Monday said trade economist and former union official Thea Lee has been named to lead the agency's International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB), an office that will police the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement's labor provisions.

Lee, who was previously president of the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank in Washington, spent 20 years at the AFL-CIO as the union federation's chief of staff, policy director and chief international economist until 2017.

In a statement, Lee said she was "thrilled" to have the opportunity to lead the bureau as deputy undersecretary at a consequential time for workers.

"Under the leadership of President Biden, Vice President Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, ILAB will have the resources and the moral authority to play an essential role in lifting up, strengthening and enforcing workers' rights around the world," Lee said.

The Biden administration has vowed to enforce new labor rights provisions in the USMCA trade pact launched last year aimed at allowing Mexican workers to unionize, efforts which have largely failed since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994.

As the lead Labor Department representative on a new interagency USMCA labor review committee, among Lee's first tasks will be to examine a "rapid response" petition filed by the AFL-CIO on Monday against a Mexican auto parts factory.

The complaint alleges that workers at the Tridonex plant in Matamoros on the Texas border were denied independent union representation in violation of USMCA. read more

Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Richard Pullin

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