New US trade standards to protect labour, environment


Washington : The Democratic-controlled Congress wrestled major trade concessions from the Republican administration to make international labour and environment standards the gold standard for US free-trade agreements.

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Hailed as a historic bipartisan agreement, the deal was announced Thursday with fanfare on Capitol Hill by representatives of both the centre-left Congressional majority and the centre-right administration. It will apply to deals already negotiated with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea but is not expected to slow their passage, officials said.

"This agreement recognises that many people have lost their jobs because of globalisation," said house speaker Nancy Pelosi. "We must do much more to address consequences of globalisation and how many working families are faced with increased economic security, so we have some basic principles."

US Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab, faced with mounting opposition in Congress to the pending deals, directly negotiated with the Democrats, who took over Congress in January, to iron out last-minute hitches, the Washington Post reported earlier Thursday.

"Our farmers, our ranchers, our workers, our service providers, our businesses all understand that 95 percent of the world's consumers or the world's customers are outside of our border," she said on Capitol Hill.

The move comes as World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks – specifically, the current Doha round – are stalled on basic issues such as subsidies paid by wealthier nations to their own farmers, which make agricultural exports from developing countries less competitive in international markets.

Poorer countries, on the other hand, are reluctant to lower trade barriers to allow importation of services and products from wealthier nations.

Schwab was optimistic that the new environmental and labour standards for US trade deals would advance the Doha round of WTO talks.

"This agreement is a prerequisite for moving US trade agreements forward," she said.

In Colombia's case, new protections for Colombian labour leaders against government violence would be added to the free-trade deal that has been negotiated, said Charles Rangel, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the US House of Representatives.

He said the Colombian government supported the move.