Mexico's labor standards no obstacle to NAFTA deal: Mexican minister

FILE PHOTO: Flags are pictured during the fifth round of NAFTA talks involving the United States, Mexico and Canada, in Mexico City, Mexico, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Tensions over Mexico's labor standards will not prevent the signatories to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)from reaching an accord to overhaul the deal, the country's labor minister said on Wednesday.

Negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico are due to meet in Mexico City from Feb. 25 to March 5 for the next round of talks to rework NAFTA, with several major sticking points still casting doubt over the future of the accord.

Foremost among them are U.S. demands to secure a bigger chunk of the automotive business in North America, though unions have also relentlessly attacked Mexican labor standards and pay on the grounds they undermine working conditions in the region.

Still, Roberto Campa, who took office as labor minister last month, said he did not believe labor-related disputes would prevent an agreement.

"Based on the information we've received from those who have taken part in the (NAFTA) talks, we're sure that labor issues will not be an obstacle to concluding the negotiation of the deal," Campa told reporters at a news conference.

U.S. and Mexican unions sent a complaint during the previous round of NAFTA talks to the U.S. Labor Department that Mexico continues to violate the accord's labor standards.

Meanwhile, the boss of Canada's biggest private sector union, Unifor, has repeatedly said NAFTA should be scrapped if Mexican standards do not markedly improve.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to quit NAFTA if the deal cannot be reworked in favor of the United States, arguing it has increased the U.S. trade deficit and led to jobs migrating south of the border to lower-cost Mexico.

Supporters of NAFTA say the industrial integration of the United States with Mexico has been vital in upholding the competitiveness of the region.

Though economic growth in Mexico has fallen well short of the rates first targeted by President Enrique Pena Nieto, job creation has been one of the brighter spots, helping to underpin consumer spending in Latin America's No. 2 economy.

Campa forecast that by the time Pena Nieto's six-year term in office ends on Nov. 30, the government will have created some 4 million new formal jobs, surpassing the total registered in the two previous administrations put together.

The new jobs total under Pena Nieto stood at just over 3.1 million as of December, according to the labor ministry.


(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Tom Brown)