7:06 AM Apr 6, 1995


Geneva 4 Apr (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- A United States senior official in the labour department, Jack Otero, said Tuesday that the Trade Representative, Mickey Kantor, would soon renew the drive to create a working party in the World Trade Organization to study the relationships between the trading system and the internationally recognized labour standards.

Otero, the Deputy Under-Secretary of Labour (third ranking job), and a former vice-President of the US telecommunication and transport workers international union (an affiliate of the AFL-CIO which is spearheading the drive in the US) in Geneva for the meeting of the ILO's Governing Body and its working party which has been discussing the social dimensions of trade liberalization.

The working party discussions (on 31 Mar and 3 April) was a continuation of one that began last November - with four sittings taken up with the speeches of the long list of speakers held over from then - but with the tripartite body no nearer a convergence of views, leave aside a consensus.

While no one was against improvement of social conditions, there has been an overwhelming opposition from governments -- but with a few like the US and France pushing for it -- and unanimous opposition from employers, and doubts from some worker, to the idea of linking labour standards with trade sanctions.

The working party is meeting again Wednesday evening, to discuss whether, and if so how, the ILO should continue discussions. The ILO head, Michael Hansenne is trying to get some mandate to enable the secretariat to continue studies and bring up the issue up for future discussions.

Otero claimed that the US administration was not trying to deprive developing countries of any trade advantages resulting from cheaper labour costs, but that "we don't believe we can do business as usual when there is continued exploitation of human beings ... imprisonment of labour activists and use of prison labour..."

The Clinton administration, he said, believed that "trade sanctions should be available as a last resort" if agreed "core standards" were violated. The administration thought that other measures were available to secure compliance, but sanctions should be available "as a last resort".

Otero said the debate should be continued within the ILO as well as in the WTO and "we feel the issue can be pursued on two tracks".

He also claimed that there was an understanding at Marrakesh (where the WTO agreement was signed) that a working party would be set up in the WTO and said the Clinton administration intended "to pursue implementation of the commitment extracted at the Marrakesh meeting".

Trade diplomats noted though that at Marrakesh no agreement or understanding could be found on any future agenda -- beyond what was already built into the WTO agreements.

As a result, the final meeting ended with the Chairman of that meeting, Uruguay's Sergio Abreu Bonilla, merely listed all the subjects mentioned by each and every minister present, and said that a function of the Preparatory Committee for the WTO would be to discuss suggestions for inclusion of additional items on the agenda of the WTO.

The Marrakesh laundry list of 15 items ranged from the labour standards issue through immigration policies, trade and competition policies, investment, financial and monetary policies to poverty alleviation and unilateral and extra-territorial trade measures.

The Preparatory Committee wound up in December 1994 without any consensus to take on any of the "new issues", but agreed to "forward them to the WTO's General Council for further consideration and action as appropriate". The General Council in January, took note of this report.

While "consultations" are to continue, the status of these "laundry lists" on the WTO agenda are the same. Whether or not to take them up on the agenda or a work programme - whether it be the labour standards being pushed by the US and France or the immigration policies in the North proposed by India and several other developing countries -- is still the issue, a trade diplomat commented.