Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Voice and Transparency in Aaronson's May 2015 paper "New Ideas to Empower US and European Workers in TTIP"

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to participate in an exciting survey administered by Susan Aaronson of the George Washington University Elliott School on how best to incorporate worker rights in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade agreement being negotiated between the United States and the European Union.  One of Dr. Aaronson's primary projects is Make Trade Policy More Trusted, Transparent and Accountable at the GWU Institute for International Economic Policy.  Participating in the survey gave me and the other 22 respondents a chance to get some of our ideas and recommendations into trade and labor policy discussions while TTIP negotiations are ongoing.  Some of the ideas I had that made it into the final paper were (1) inclusion of provisions to address human trafficking; and (2) emphasis on utilization of creative international cooperation mechanisms like the Joint Public Advisory Committee which has been an innovative and effective mechanism for public involvement in the North American Commission of Environmental Cooperation.

Susan Aaronson's resulting paper Working by Design New Ideas to Empower US and European Workers in TTIP was released at a joint ILO-GWU conference held in Washington, DC on May 14, 2015.  In addition to the findings and recommendations resulting from the survey, the paper captures some of the misgivings many have about the possible negative impacts the TTIP could have on workers' rights, particularly on strong labor and social welfare protections in most European Union member states.  The paper also captures key differences in the US and EU approaches to labor rights in free trade agreements (See p. 7).

One of the most compelling recommendations from the survey is that labor, human and social welfare rights should be considered and incorporated throughout the text of the US-EU free trade agreement (instead of in just a single chapter) as a way to advance labor rights and increase employment (See pp. 12, 21).  Aaronson points to a proposed "regulatory coherence" chapter that could have a negative impact on worker rights as its aim is to "ensure that domestic regulations, such as environmental regulations, health and safety standards or workplace regulations do not distort trade" (p. 13).  She cites a 2015 ETUI policy brief written by Aida Ponce titled TTIP:  fast track to deregulation and lower health and safety protection for EU workers as an example of how a US-EU free trade agreement regulatory coherence chapter might lower workplace standards in the EU.  Two other proposed chapters that could have a negative impact on worker rights are the proposed services and investment chapters.

The paper also includes some other survey recommendations of note such as:
  • Improvements to the labor dispute process under TTIP (p. 22); 
  • Periodic (every 5 years) reporting on the TTIP's impact on the realization of ILO core labor rights (p. 23);
  • Specific exclusion of minimum or living wage laws, collective bargaining agreements, public procurement standards and public health and welfare regulations from the Investor-State Dispute provisions (p. 21);
  • Establishment of an independent Secretariat to resolve disputes, issue reports, conduct research and engage in innovative projects to promote worker rights (p. 23); and
  • Improved transparency in the TTIP negotiation process to allow the public to better understand how the agreement will expand employment and protect labor rights (p. 24).
The Working by Design paper takes a hopeful stance on ways the TTIP might be used to improve the lives in hundreds of millions of workers in the U.S. and Europe.  Nevertheless, I am left wondering if strong worker and social protections in almost every EU member state might be interpreted as trade distortions under a less than artfully crafted US-EU free trade agreement, leading to erosion rather than improvement of standards.

Finally, while I enjoyed the ILO-GWU conference (and picked up some useful tidbits of updated information) where the Working by Design paper was released, I wonder if the traditional conference format of 15-minute speeches and audience questions is the best way to come up with genuinely creative ideas.  In over 15 years of speaking at and attending international and comparative labor and employment conferences, only once have I attended an event that had an alternative format which captured and improved upon the ideas of the participants - the First Hispanic Forum on a Safe and Healthy Environment held in Orlando in 2003.  At the First Hispanic Forum on a Safe and Healthy Environment, participants were divided into 3 groups where we worked with facilitators to discuss and develop our ideas into a final set of recommendations which were then merged together in a single document on the final day of the Forum.  Maybe the next step in the Working for All work stream should be the First Global Forum on New Ideas and Innovative Strategies to Enhance Economic and Social Benefits in Trade Agreements - where the audience teaches the speakers rather than the other way around.

Can free trade work for all? Canada throws down gauntlet as U.S. attempts to avoid labor obligations imposed on its trade partners

One of the purposes of the May 14, 2015 conference Working for All? New Ideas and Innovative Strategies to Enhance Economic and Social Benefits in Trade Agreements co-hosted by the GWU Elliott School and the International Labor Organization was to shake up Washington policy discussions about incorporation of labor, human rights and social welfare concepts in free trade agreements.

For me, remarks made by Pierre Bouchard (Director of Bilateral and Regional Labour Affairs, Canada) were the highlight of the conference.  Bouchard used the event to highlight a tricky negotiation point with the United States Trade Representative regarding labor provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership currently under negotiation.  While the U.S. has made strides in strengthening labor provisions in free trade agreements negotiated after NAFTA, in fact the U.S. has inserted a footnote in each of the post-NAFTA free trade agreements to make sure these broader FTA labor provisions do not apply to the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories like Puerto Rico.  This actually decreases the level of obligation the U.S. agreed to in the NAFTA labor side agreement (NAALC) which contains no such limitation.*  Canada, unlike recent U.S. trading partners like Peru, Singapore, Bahrain and the Central American nations, seems to have both the leverage and the willingness to press this point with USTR.  For U.S. labor rights advocates who have utilized the NAALC as a tool to press for improved labor law enforcement at the federal and state level, it is critical that the Government of Canada prevail on this point.  Hopefully other trading partners in the TPP support Canada in this endeavor if for no other reason than the U.S. should not impose international labor obligations on its trading partners that it is not willing to commit to itself.

Other remarks to highlight during the conference include:

  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership eliminates labor law exemptions for Export Processing Zones in member states (Carol Pier, Deputy Undersecretary, International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor).
  • Globalization and trade have traditionally been engines of inequality and their gains have not been broadly shared (Lance Compa, Senior Lecturer, Cornell University).  Compa also shared his experiences with the Fruit of the Loom labor rights framework in Honduras.
  • Switzerland and China have negotiated a free trade agreement with labor provisions (Silvia Formentini, Trade and Sustainable Development, European Commission).
  • Chile has negotiated free trade agreements with labor provisions with, in succession, Canada, the U.S., the EU, Japan and now China.  As a comparatively smaller country and economy, Chile must adopt different tactics with each of these trade partners (Pablo Lazo Grandi, Permanent Mission of Chile to UN in Geneva).
  • Canada ratified the ILO Forced Labor Convention (No. 29) as a result of negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU (Pierre Bouchard).
  • Freedom of Association has been seen as a barrier to the Right of Establishment and Investment in the EU (Tonia Novitz, University of Bristol.  For more information, see this 2010 European Parliament briefing note The Impact of the ECJ Judgments on Viking, Laval, Ruffert and Luxembourg on the Practice of Collective Bargaining and the Effectiveness of Social Action or Novitz's 2008 piece A Human Rights Analysis of the Viking and Laval Judgments). 
  • The EU Employer Federation is in favor of ILO standards in the Transatlanltic Trade and Investment Partnership/TTIP (Thomas Zielke, Representative of German Interest and Trade).

 * In fact, a number of NAALC complaints filed with Canada and Mexico allege ineffective labor law enforcement by  U.S. state authorities as well as federal authorities - particularly the Washington Apple, De Coster Egg Packing, New York Workers' Compensation cases (not to mention the North Carolina Public Workers case which is still pending with Canadian authorities).

Monday, May 11, 2015

All hype or maybe some light? May 14 ILO Conference on New Ideas on incorporating labor and human development issues in Free Trade Agreements

The draft agenda is out for the May 14 Conference Working for All? New Ideas and Innovative Strategies to Enhance Economic and Social Benefits in Trade Agreements, co-hosted by the International Labor Organization and George Washington University in Washington, DC.  Speakers include a number of thought leaders and policy makers in the subject area.  Will it all be hype and more of the same ideas everyone has had for the last two decades?  Or will there be genuine dialogue leading to transformative ideas for future policy development and action?  Don't forget to register - and if you can't attend, tune in here for analysis and response.