Friday, September 19, 2008

Worker rights as an economic asset

Protecting worker rights as part of trade policy can be good for the economy. So says report just released by a Washington think tank, the Center for American Progress.

“The promotion of labor standards, alongside environmental protections, should be an integral part of the future U.S. trade agenda,” says the report titled “Labor Rights Can Be Good Trade Policy.”

The authors, Christian E. Weller and Stephen Zucconi, warn that, to be effective, the worker rights provisions of trade agreements must be enforced with “positive incentives for moving toward better labor standards, and negative incentives, including sanctions, when benchmarks are not met.”

Nearly a third of the 34-page report consists of data buttressing their points, including the fact that “stronger labor rights are correlated with smaller trade balances,” for instance, and that U.S. trade is more balanced with countries that have better worker rights.

Yet improving standards won’t, by itself, produce impressive results. That’s a crucial point emphasized in the Center report. Adopting global labor standards, Weller and Zuicconi insist, is a “key”(but not the only) element in a “broader” progressive international policy agenda to grow the global middle class.

In other words, improving labor standards in the North American Free Trade Agreement, as Senator Obama advocates, is a necessary but not sufficient reform. The Center study does not draw that specific conclusion, but I think it follows logically from a realistic assessment of the negative impact that a whole has on the situation of workers in Canada, Mexico, and the United States

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