The linkage between trade and labour has been a contentious one. Should there be more discussion on labour standards and migration in trade negotiations involving trade liberalization? I have blogged about this issue here and here.
Anuradha R.V. and Nimisha Singh Dutta have provided this excellent analysis of the relationship between trade and labour standards in this study titled "Trade and Labour under the WTO and FTAs" in a study for the Centre for WTO Studies. Making detailed study of the labour provisions in various PTA's across the world, they have provided a set of recommendations which essentially concludes that any linkage of labour and trade must be resisted by developing countries.
" 1.Maintain opposition to the Trade and Labour linkage: While all countries (including the countries which have not ratified the CLS) should take steps towards promoting labour welfare, there are no reasons why developing countries should agree to linkage of labour issues in trade agreements. There is sufficient literature and evidence to show that increased labour will not result in decline in labour conditions; on the contrary greater economic development through expanding trade opportunities would actually result in better conditions for labour as well..."
While improving labour standards has to be a national policy concern, linking it to trade is problematic due to the protectionist overtones it has.Could countries use it for protecting their products from increased competition. Is it happening already? Do we have evidence of protectionist measures based on labour standards? Is the public morals clause unde Article XX GATT capable of being used to advance labour standards? Is the TBT Agreement the new arena where labour standards will be played out? There is an other issue of stakeholders here - the government, tree associations, the business owners, labour unions as well as the individual labour. Do all of them have the same interest in this debate? What constitutes national interest - increased labour standards or increased competitive pricing of the product or an international labour standard?