WASHINGTON — The House Committee on Ways and Means on Tuesday, Dec. 17, approved by a voice vote the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act (H.R. 5430). The legislation was referred to the full House of Representatives, which was scheduled to vote on the measure on Dec. 19. The Senate was expected to vote on the implementing bill early next year.

Just a day before the Ways and Means Committee vote, a final drama played out in Washington that nearly saw the deal scotched. Jesús Seade Kuri, Mexico’s under secretary for North America and its chief trade negotiator, made a beeline to Washington for an urgent Monday morning meeting with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to raise Mexico’s concerns about the USMCA implementing legislation the Trump administration submitted to Congress on Friday, Dec. 13.

The legislation included authorization for up to five Labor Dept. attaches to be dispatched to the US Embassy in Mexico to work with their Mexican counterparts, workers and civil society groups on implementing Mexican labor reform. The Mexican government was concerned that these US diplomats might demand the right to enter and investigate Mexican factories or facilities if they believed workers there were being denied rights under the labor reform.

The Mexican government asserted this was not part of the revised USMCA agreement signed by representatives of Canada, the United States and Mexico on Dec. 10. Furthermore, such investigations by US officials would infringe on Mexican sovereignty and would be in violation of Mexican law.

Lighthizer in the meeting with Seade and in an official letter sent following the meeting assured the Mexican government the US labor attaches would not be sent to Mexico as inspectors and they would abide by all relevant Mexican laws.

Instead, if there were “good faith questions” about whether workers at a particular facility were being denied their rights, the matter would be referred to a three-person panel chosen by both parties, and it was these independent panel members who would be authorized to conduct on-site investigations should the need arise.

This was part of the revised USMCA, and Seade was satisfied with the clarification, which opened the way for the House votes on the agreement.