WASHINGTON — A federal office designed to monitor labor issues arising from free trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada opens today.

Part of the Labor Department, the National Administrative Office was established under side agreements to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The agreement addressing labor issues was designed to appease NAFTA critics fearing U.S. companies would flock to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages and lax government labor standards.

The office will be used to monitor labor issues, including non-enforcement of labor laws in any of the three countries. The office won’t have any legal authority, but rather act in an oversight capacity. Disputes over labor violations, as well as environmental law and trade disputes under NAFTA, will be ultimately settled by a panel representing all three countries. That panel will be established in coming weeks.

Jorge Perez-Lopez, director of Labor’s Office of International Economic Affairs, has been named acting director of the new office. A permanent director will be named at a later date.