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Trade Policy: A Level Playing Field for American Workers



On July 16, 2009, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced a proactive enforcement strategy to save American jobs, by helping to ensure that American workers compete on a level playing field.  Regular, proactive monitoring of labor standards will identify violations and enable swift bilateral consultation and resolution - helping working people receive their basic international rights, and eliminating practices that give foreign companies a competitive edge over American enterprises at workers' expense.

Since 2001, the United States has entered into Free Trade Agreements with 14 countries.  Each contains provisions obligating signatory nations to uphold domestic labor laws and pursue or adhere to international labor norms.  To date, enforcement of these provisions has been carried out largely on a complaint-driven basis, and some governments have failed to sufficiently monitor the labor practices of their domestic producers.  To guarantee American workers' rights and competitiveness, USTR will take the following initial steps:

PROACTIVELY MONITOR AND IDENTIFY LABOR VIOLATIONS, AND ENFORCE LABOR PROVISIONS OF TRADE AGREEMENTS: USTR will regularly monitor compliance by FTA countries with their labor obligations in trade agreements.  USTR staff will partner with professionals from the Departments of State and Labor to maintain a consistent flow of information and prevent labor violations from going unnoticed or unresolved.   When efforts to resolve violations have been expired, USTR will not hesitate, as in other areas of trade agreement enforcement, to invoke formal dispute settlement.

ENGAGE WITH FTA PARTNERS TO RESOLVE LABOR ISSUES: USTR will engage with FTA countries to resolve labor issues through dialogue, technical cooperation, and Labor Chapter consultations and dispute settlement, as necessary.  USTR will coordinate with experts across the federal government, as well as with individuals from the U.S. labor movement and interested NGOs to provide FTA nations with the resources and expertise to resolve labor problems, improve respect for the basic rights of working people, and protect the interests of American workers.   For instance, USTR will work with the Department of Labor to implement the workers' rights provisions of the Haitian HOPE II Act, and to seek to ensure effective implementation of Peruvian commitments to labor protections for temporary workers, subcontractors, and others.

PROMOTE INTERNATIONAL LABOR NORMS: USTR will partner with the Department of Labor to serve as a resource to nations seeking to improve labor conditions within their borders.  For example, the Obama Administration is seeking to enhance engagement with Chinese officials on fundamental labor rights, enforcement of China's labor laws and other key labor- related issues.