Mexico City (AFP) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that a new North American Free Trade Agreement must better protect workers and the middle class, acknowledging the malaise that has fueled Donald Trump's attacks on the deal.
Addressing the Mexican senate at the close of a North American tour that saw him spar with the US president over trade, Trudeau acknowledged the anti-globalization sentiment that Trump has successfully tapped among the American middle class.
"In our increasingly globalized society, we see people who are scared of being left behind. Isolationism is taking hold in too many corners of the world," he said.
"As leaders, we must stay squarely focused on the middle class and those working hard to join it."
His message came as negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico huddled outside Washington for their latest round of talks on updating NAFTA.
Trump, who says the deal has been a "disaster" for the US, wants to either overhaul or scrap it.
Trudeau argued the key to winning broader support for a new version of the 1994 deal would be better wages and protections for workers -- a message also aimed at Mexico, whose cheap labor is seen as a threat by both Canada and the US.
"Progressive labor standards are how we ensure that a modernized NAFTA will not just bolster free and fair trade, but will enjoy long-lasting popular support," he told the Mexican senate, whose approval is needed to ratify any new version of NAFTA.
He drew loud applause for saying the deal must also promote equal rights for women.
"We must move the needle forward on gender equality," he said.
"This is why Canada is so appreciative of Mexico's support for a gender chapter in the modernization of NAFTA... This is a progressive step forward that we can't afford not to take."
The Trump administration has introduced a series of controversial proposals to update NAFTA, including tightening the "rules of origin" to demand certain amounts of American-made content in products and requiring the three countries to unanimously renew the deal every five years.