WTO Protest: US wants child labour clause in every trade deal

THIS WEEK'S protests in Seattle have put huge pressure on America to win agreement for its most controversial proposal: new trade rules on labour.

America wants the World Trade Organisation to help prevent low wages and child labour from undermining jobs in the US, and it wants to do this through sanctions on countries that break the rules. Developing countries say this is just penalising them for their poverty.

But labour standards were the key demand of trade unionists who marched on Tuesday, and without them, the US government will be in deep political trouble with one of its core political supporters.

As he arrived in Seattle for the WTO meeting, President Bill Clinton ratcheted up the pressure for new rules with language that will have alarmed the developing world. He told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "What we ought to do first of all is to adopt the United States' position on having a working group on labour within the WTO. Then that working group should develop these core labour standards, and then they ought to be a part of every trade agreement, and ultimately I would favour a system in which sanctions would come for violating any provision of a trade agreement."

Most of the developing countries have reservations about labour standards, fearing that it is just Western protectionism in another form. India, more than any country, rejects the idea completely. Indian delegation members say it will be impossible for the country to return home with any agreement that links labour and the WTO.

But the US, with pressure increasing from the unions and an election campaign just months away, cannot end the meeting without such a deal.

Britain and Egypt have agreed a compromise plan that would allow the WTO to discuss labour standards with other organisations, without sanctions and with the possibility of new aid from the World Bank to help remedy the problem rather than sanctions. Egypt and India are competing diplomatically for leadership of the developing countries at the conference, and some countries will see any British initiative as imperialist "divide and rule" by other means. But at the same time, if there is no compromise before the meeting's scheduled end on Friday then the conference may fail.

The other critical issue at the summit is agriculture, where Europe is at odds with the farm-exporting nations like Canada and Australia, and to a lesser extent the US. One key issue is that the EU insists the WTO must recognise that agriculture is different from other goods, something which the exporters reject. An EU working paper released yesterday relaxes its stance slightly, and may set a path for a compromise.

The other sensitive issues are the environment and the implementation of the last trade round, where developing nations say that too little has been achieved. An EU plan to reduce trade barriers to the world's poorest countries is close to agreement. But e-commerce, one of the newest areas, is also threatening to become a problem. The aim is to kick off a three-year negotiating round, to end in a new treaty with rules to break down global barriers.

Many of the developing nations suspect the US deliberately let Tuesday's protests get out of hand. Delegates were aghast at the failure of police to create a cordon around the negotiators, allowing many to be left isolated in small enclaves. Though some delegates say the protests have increased the pressure for a deal, and warmed relations between officials who spent Tuesday being teargassed together, many are furious at how the US allowed the conference to degenerate into chaos.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before