U.S. Taking Tougher Stand on 'Substandard Labor Practices'

Administration vows to more effectively identify and solve trade problems at the source and take legal action when necessary.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on July 16 that Washington is preparing to take a tougher stand on violations of trade agreements, including on "substandard labor practices."

He said that President Barack Obama's administration has made enforcement of trade pacts a priority in the fight to protect American jobs and restore growth to the recession-mired economy. "Just enforcing the rules on the books can win our workers and companies the benefits of trading as fully, fairly, and freely as our agreements allow," Kirk said in a speech at a Pennsylvania steel plant.

"Our new approach to enforcement is simple. We will deploy our resources more effectively to identify and solve problems at the source," he said. "But make no mistake: we will pursue legal remedies when other options are closed."

Kirk cited the U.S. complaint against China filed in June with the World Trade Organization. "We believe that China is unfairly restricting exports of raw materials like manganese and coke," he said. "In effect, this keeps the prices of these products lower for Chinese producers than the global market price."

Kirk noted that good trade policy depends on access to foreign markets. U.S. exports in 2008 generated nearly two trillion dollars in income -- "about one in every eight dollars Americans earned last year," he said.

The administration will challenge one of the biggest obstacles facing American manufacturers -- technical barriers such as regulations and standards "that restrict U.S. exports of safe, high-quality products," he said.

Kirk said the new stand would also apply to countries with which the U.S. has free-trade agreements. "Since 2001, the U.S. has entered into free trade agreements with 14 countries," he said. "Every one of those agreements contains an obligation to enforce domestic labor laws, and to strive for labor standards that adhere to international norms. Now, we will insist that our trading partners hold up their end of the bargain. American workers should not be expected to compete against substandard labor practices."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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