Auto workers at the large Nissan plant in Agauscalientes, Mexico, in 2012. (Nick Miroff/The Washington Post)

Trade debates have been haunted by the ghosts of Smoot-Hawley and 19th-century economic theory for decades, but it is jaw-dropping that the April 29 editorial “From tear-up to tune-up” would fail to mention the issue of labor standards.

There can be no denying that U.S. jobs have moved to Mexico because of the huge differential in wages. Mexican autoworkers’ compensation is 19 percent that of their unionized U.S. counterparts, and auto parts workers earn even less — $2.40 an hour. This is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. The Mexican labor system is designed to prevent workers from organizing to improve their wages and conditions. There is no link in Mexico between productivity and wages: Productivity increased 80 percent, while real compensation — wages and benefits — slid 20 percent between 1994 and 2011.

The core change that must occur in North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation is that Mexico must change its labor laws and practices to come into compliance with international standards, and these provisions must be fully enforced in the agreement.

Sander M. Levin, Washington

The writer, a Democrat, represents Michigan’s
9th District in the House and is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.