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World Trudeau seeks Mexican partnership against ‘isolationism,’ urges progressive labour standards

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a speech to the Mexican Senate in Mexico City on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Mexico to be Canada's partner in an unpredictable isolationist world and urged the country to adopt progressive labour standards in a new NAFTA deal, during a speech to the Mexican Senate after his whirlwind North American tour.

Mr. Trudeau addressed lawmakers on his final day in Mexico, using his speech to push for a progressive trade deal after he and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto pledged their support for the North American free-trade agreement in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump's protectionist proposals and threats to pull out of the pact. Shortly before Mr. Trudeau gave his speech, the Trump administration tabled its contentious auto-content demands as the fourth round of NAFTA talks continued outside Washington.

"In our increasingly globalized society, we see people who are scared of being left behind," Mr. Trudeau said.

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"Isolationism is taking hold in too many corners of the world, but our people must not succumb to fear. We, as leaders, must not succumb to fear."

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Mr. Trudeau's speech comes after a week-long visit to the U.S. and Mexico that included private meetings with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pena Nieto as the future of NAFTA looks increasingly unclear.

Mr. Trump told Mr. Trudeau during a face-to-face meeting at the Oval Office that he might "terminate" NAFTA while hinting at negotiating bilateral deals with Canada or Mexico. Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Pena Nieto both pledged their support for the agreement, although Mr. Trudeau didn't rule out a bilateral deal with the U.S. if talks fail.

He said Canada, the United States and Mexico must adopt progressive labour standards as a way to modernize NAFTA and secure its support in the long term. The trade talks are delving into the protection of union rights and compelling Mexico to pay higher wages, a problem that is affecting Canada's auto industry as plants move to Mexico where workers are paid much less.

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"We must ensure that workers are protected by progressive labour standards. They need to know that their governments, and their employers, have their backs," Mr. Trudeau said to applause.

"We must pursue trade agreements that are win-win-win, helping workers across North America achieve better standards, wages and working conditions."

At a press conference with Mr. Trudeau on Thursday night, Mr. Pena Nieto said Mexico sees an opportunity to improve labour conditions during the free-trade talks, although he didn't elaborate on how this would be done.

"Mexico doesn't want to be competitive by having low salaries. It wants to be competitive because it has qualified labourers and because it has a capacity of being able to compete," the Mexican President said.

Mr. Trudeau promised this week that Canada will remain at the negotiating table regardless of Mr. Trump's hardline proposals. He said Friday that the three countries must work together, even in the face of uncertainty.

"A strong North America can only come from a strong Mexico, a strong Canada and a strong United States. We are partners – all of us. And even in the face of unpredictability and change, we must remember that," Mr. Trudeau said in the Mexican Senate.

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Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, President of the Senate, also said the three countries must work as allies and not close their borders, a reference to Mr. Trump's protectionist policies.

"It is the responsibility of the leaders of the region to fight protectionism or unilateralism," he said, adding that no one should "build walls."

"The speech of hatred and populism is shaming us as people of the three countries … we should fight anything that will be against our freedom and rights in the northern part of America."

Mr. Trudeau also used his speech to promote gender equality and thanked Mexico for its support of Canada's push to include a gender chapter in the modernization of NAFTA. All political parties are required to run 50-per-cent female candidates in the 2018 election.

But he said the two countries have more work to do to protect human rights, referring to Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women and the poor treatment of some women and girls in Mexico. He also made an apparent reference to the numerous recent sexual-harassment and assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

"Violence against women and girls is prevalent in all facets of life, from the studios of Hollywood to the digital public squares to our halls of Parliament," Mr. Trudeau said.

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"I challenge you to use your position of power to continue to strongly push for the rights of women and girls in Mexico and around the world," he said to a standing ovation.

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