Remarks of Ambassador Katherine Tai Opening the First USMCA Free Trade Commission

05/18/2021

Remarks of Ambassador Katherine Tai Opening the First USMCA Free Trade Commission

 

WASHINGTON – Ambassador Katherine Tai today delivered opening remarks at the first Free Trade Commission of the United States – Canada – Mexico Agreement (USMCA), celebrating the renewed economic partnership and emphasizing her commitment to implementing, enforcing, and fulfilling the terms of the USMCA.

The remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Good morning Secretary Clouthier, Minister Ng, and my fellow USTR, Economía, and Global Affairs Canada colleagues.

Today is a historic day, the first convening of our renewed partnership, and I am proud to join all of you at the inaugural USMCA Free Trade Commission meeting.

It is not lost upon me that we are holding this important meeting virtually rather than in-person.

For more than a year, our countries have struggled to address the ongoing pandemic that has caused significant loss of human life and devastated our economies. We are only now seeing some positive signs of recovery, and even then, only in a few places.

The pandemic affected different groups in significantly different ways.

We have seen the disparate health and economic impacts of COVID-19 that have highlighted the structural inequities in our societies. Some workers are as well-off as ever, while others struggle to feed their children.

And we see how women, SMEs, and underrepresented communities have disproportionately borne the impact of this crisis.  The renewed USMCA recognizes the important role these groups and small businesses play in our regional dynamism.

Just two years ago, I was helping to lead the USMCA negotiations in the United States Congress.  We proved that, together, we are capable of updating and remediating a 25-year-old agreement that faced significant criticism at its start.

We have gone from having toothless side agreements for labor and environmental protections, to meaningful commitments and state-of-the art cooperation and enforcement mechanisms.

We have gone from viewing trade agreements exclusively as a path to liberalization, to restructuring the rules in an effort to rebalance the impacts of the agreement; to make sure that those benefiting from the agreement are the parties to the agreement – not third-party free-riders; and to create accountability mechanisms for the economic stakeholders who have benefitted the most from the integration of our economies.

President Biden has placed a strong emphasis on trade and democracy. And the new Agreement shows us that neighboring democracies, with differing economic conditions, can come together to lead a new way forward while managing our differences.

The Agreement’s unprecedented, bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress is a cause for celebration. It is also a charge to action.

To maintain that high level of support, it is essential that we collaborate to implement, enforce, and fulfill the terms of the USMCA.  For this agreement to be durable, it must serve the needs of everyday people – not just in the United States, but in Mexico and Canada as well. That will only happen if we deliver on our promises.

Many of you have heard me underscore that I intend to lead a worker-centric trade policy. USMCA is a step in that direction, but only a step.

For too long, the focus has been on “global value chains,” as a proxy for maximizing efficiency. That efficiency has proven to be detrimentally expensive.

Not only have we discovered the fragility of our supply chains, but we have just begun to appreciate the degree to which they run counter to our collective goals of ensuring that workers within North America, and outside it, are paid a fair wage, in a safe workplace.

I want to take this moment to acknowledge that our three countries agreed, in USMCA, to bar imports of goods made in whole — or in part — with forced labor.

Unfolding events are showing us the importance of that commitment. We are living our values by stopping these goods at the border.

This is yet another way in which we, as North America, are showing leadership on trade. We must continue to press forward.

To promote sustainability, North America should also lead in the collective fight against climate change. And the USMCA should serve as a platform for future cooperation and prosperity.

Our emission reduction pledges and strategic investments in innovative technologies provide complementary tools to address the climate crisis.

Further, we must collectively address wildlife trafficking, illegal logging and fishing and marine litter and fully uphold our environmental commitments.

If we choose to be strategic, bold, and innovative, we can bolster existing supply chains and develop new ones in the areas of clean and emerging technologies.

As you know, USMCA modernized the business of our trading relationship for the 21st century and addressed the commercial landscape we face today. At the same time, we know that business has enjoyed pride of place in influencing trade agreements.

Under a worker-centric trade policy, I pledge my commitment to ensuring that workers and environmentalists enjoy their own pride of place, so that we can continue to address the race-to-the-bottom that has characterized the trading system over the past several decades.

We have taken important steps in USMCA to curb that downward pressure, but I view our trilateral relationship as a constant work in progress in pursuit of shared prosperity.

Today’s FTC is just the first step in realizing the full potential that this Agreement, and our broader relationship, has to offer our nations and our region.

We have a robust agenda today. We will hear from 11 of the Agreement’s committees and have a detailed discussion of our labor, environment, and inclusive trade agendas. While we may respectfully disagree on some issues today and in the future, I know that we will work hard to renew our partnership, using the tools we have designed in this Agreement, and deliver solutions for all the people we serve and represent.

With that, I would like to officially convene the first-ever USMCA Free Trade Commission Meeting and welcome opening remarks from both Secretary Clouthier and Minister Ng.

###