Socio-political riddle

Published: Wednesday 15 February 1995

THE united stand of the labour ministers of the nonaligned and other developing countries to denounce the post-Uruguay round attempt to introduce a social clause to link up international trade with labour standards, although commendable, is still a political riddle. This Delhi Declaration's seemingly aggressive stance, following from the 5th labour minister's meet, stands out in stark contrast to the meek acceptance by the South of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff's predatory mandate to widen the area of influence to include Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), agriculture and services.

The South's whiplash only indicates its deeper sense of threat. The developed countries, led by the US, are using social standards as a trade lever to deny the developing countries the comparative advantage stemming from cheap labour. If the social clause is accepted by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), any product from developing countries can be targeted for discriminatory restrictions by chalking out a case of workers' rights violations.

This clearly greedy step has unnerved the developing countries, who have otherwise been justifying the Uruguay round package foisting increased trade and export as major benefits and recommending it to the people. The paronoia has peaked as Europe and the US are already proposing trade sanctions against the employment of child labour.

The significant upshot is that ever since the US tried to manipulate the WTO's agenda during the signing of GATT in Marrakesh, the developing countries have been voicing the demand for to restructure and strengthen the United Nations to counter GATT's overbearing pressure.

Ironically, at this critical juncture, these "democratic" entities are willing to fall in line with the WTO, evident in the shocking affirmation of the International Labour Organisation's support to the proposed clause. This makes a mockery of the Delhi declaration, which upholds the ILO's voluntary code to provide a benchmark for monitoring national social policies for labour and pre-empt the WTO from wresting control.

The euphoria over achieving a common position in Delhi can be shortlived unless the UN is not strengthened to restrain the WTO from subverting multilaterlism. The onus is on the developing countries to spruce up their diplomacy to offer a concerted resistance to the North's aggression to ensure "a fair share in global growth", which India pledged to achieve at the Delhi meet.

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