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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn