US-Mexico-Canada trade meeting to skirt major disputes, USTR says

Biotech corn and dairy will not be deeply addressed
calendar icon 6 July 2023
clock icon 3 minute read

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai's meetings with North American trade partners Canada and Mexico this week will not delve deeply into major disputes over Mexico's biotech corn and energy policies nor Canadian dairy access, Reuters reported, citing a senior USTR official on Wednesday.

The annual meeting of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) Free Trade Commission will take place on Thursday and Friday in the Mexican resort city of Cancun, with participation from Tai, Mexican Economy Secretary Raquel Buenrostro and Canadian Minister of International Trade Mary Ng.

The meeting is required under the rules of the USMCA, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2020, for the trading partners to discuss issues related to the trade pact.

A senior USTR official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said the three ministers will discuss the ongoing implementation of USMCA, which is scheduled for a major review and potential updates in 2026. A new subcommittee created last year on competitiveness and supply chains also will meet to update officials on work to facilitate trade flows during crisis situations and prevent disruptions, the official added.

The official said North American trade irritants that are in dispute consultations or arbitration - and which could ultimately lead to punitive US import duties - are being handled through separate channels. The "primary place" to discuss these issues are in issue-specific consultations started under USMCA dispute settlement rules, the official added.

These issues include US complaints over Mexican policies to limit use of genetically modified corn imported from the United States, and over Canada's allocation of dairy import quotas that US officials have said hurts American producers. These disputes also include the USTR's long-running consultations with Mexico over its energy policies that fail to meet commitments to open its energy market to outside competitors.

"Those are obviously very important issues that remain important on all levels, so they're on the top list of priorities," the official said. "I wouldn't say that they're walled off, but certainly the primary space for discussing them is in the actual consultations."

After a USMCA dispute settlement panel ruled in January against the stricter US interpretation of the trade pact's automotive rules of origin, siding with Mexico and Canada, the United States was working separately with its two partners to find a solution for "enhancing North American motor vehicle production and jobs," the official said.

The Cancun meeting also will include discussions on USMCA's "rapid response mechanism" for labor rights violations at specific factories. The United States has invoked 11 cases under the mechanism since USMCA was launched, including an investigation at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Mexico that is the sixth this year.

The official said that the USTR has brought good cooperation from Mexico on the mechanism, which is aimed at improving labor rights at Mexican factories. A senior US labour official separately told Reuters that Mexico needs stronger institutions to protect workers as companies shift supply chains to the southern US neighbour.

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