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Trudeau defends NAFTA, calls for labour improvements

IANS | Mexico City |

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and called for changes to the deal that ensure workers across the region enjoy better labour standards and compensation.

“Our challenge lies in ensuring that everyone benefits from economic growth. And we do that by pursuing an ambitious vision of what the future can – and should – look like,” Trudeau said on Friday in a speech before the Mexican Senate, Efe news reported.

He said the economies of the US, Canada and Mexico had been tightly integrated by NAFTA and that integration was more important than ever.

Speaking on the second and final day of his official visit to Mexico, he noted that the North American free trade area was the world’s largest and represented more than a quarter of global gross domestic product.

Trade between Mexico and Canada exceeded $20 billion in 2016 and has increased nine-fold since NAFTA took effect in 1994.

He said the two countries should use that relationship as a springboard for close collaboration on the great challenges of our time, including climate change and respect for human rights.

Trudeau also urged the lawmakers to use their influence to effect change that helps women in Mexico and elsewhere.

“As a gender-balanced Senate, I challenge you to use your position and power to strongly push for the rights of women and girls in Mexico and around the world,” he said.

The Prime Minister furthermore called for strengthening the middle class to ensure people are prospering in a globalised world and are certain that employers and governments are looking out for their wellbeing.

To that end, NAFTA — which US President Donald Trump is seeking to renegotiate and possibly scrap in favor of bilateral agreements – must contain stronger protections for workers.

“Progressive labour standards are how we ensure that a modernized NAFTA will also bolster not just free and fair trade, but will enjoy long-lasting popular support,” he said.

Trudeau also alluded to a key element in current NAFTA renegotiation talks — low Mexican wages relative to the US and Canada.

“We must pursue trade agreements that are win, win, win, helping workers across North America achieve better standards, wages and working conditions,” he said.