Gingerly, Labor and Manufacturers Support New Trade Policy

Both the AFL-CIO and the National Association of Manufacturers endorsed a new trade policy agreed on by the Bush administration and congressional Democrats and Republicans late last week. Organized labor finally got what it wanted: Core labor standards for foreign countries will be part of U.S. trade agreements. But AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney and NAM's president, John Engler, both said they were not entirely satisfied.

"Labor provisions have been the focus of much of the negotiations over the past few weeks and are at the heart of this new agreement. The NAM indicated a willingness, for the first time, to accept core labor standards for foreign countries in trade agreement -- as long as U.S. labor laws were not made subject to any dispute settlement process that included ILO interpretations and jurisprudence based on the core conventions," Engler said. "I believe after examining the final language in the agreement that the United States, while obligated to uphold our already strong and longstanding commitment to the ILO's principles listed in the 1998 Declaration, will not be in any way bound by any ILO Core Conventions that we have not ratified. Our state right-to-work laws and other state laws and constitutional provisions relating to labor are completely exempted from any challenges, an extremely important point for American manufacturers."

Sweeney cited "substantial progress made in improving workers' rights and environmental standards in the Peru and Panama Free Trade Agreements" but added, "our trade policy will not be fixed overnight. The Bush administration's consistent unwillingness to enforce trade violations against nations like Jordan and China reminds us there is no guarantee the executive branch will enforce any new rights workers may gain through these negotiations. And President Bush has negotiated a flawed agreement with gross human rights violator Colombia and a losing, one-sided agreement with South Korea. We agree with Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Rangel that the progress on workers; rights and the environment does not clear the way for other flawed agreements, and we will vigorously oppose the Colombia and South Korea agreements and renewal of Fast Track trade authority. . . . We reserve final judgment until we have reviewed the agreements in their entirety. We also remain concerned that the agreement fails to adequately address issues related to the outsourcing of U.S. jobs and the ability of foreign corporations to challenge U.S. laws, among others."

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