The "side" deals critical to passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement are close to completion, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said Wednesday.
Agreements are so close that Kantor said he plans to meet with the Mexican and Canadian commerce ministers in Washington late next week, and hinted that their discussions could finalize the talks.
Trade negotiators are in Ottawa this week for what they hope is the final push toward labor and environmental side deals to the agreement that would eliminate trade barriers among the three countries, creating a common market of 360 million consumers.
The deals will include ways to assure that all three countries enforce their environmental and labor laws, probably through trade sanctions against violators, Kantor said. The commissions set up to monitor compliance with national laws will not have enforcement powers, but the trade dispute arbitration panels established in the main agreement will, he said.
"These agreements are going to have teeth," said Kantor, who was here to meet with Mexican Commerce Minister Jaime Serra Puche and President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
The Clinton Administration has said it will support NAFTA, an agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration, only if side agreements assure that neither workers nor the environment would suffer. In addition, strong side deals are needed to gain votes in Congress, which must approve the agreement if it is to take effect Jan. 1 as planned.