The colour of trade

Environmental provisions find mention in a free trade agreement

Published: Sunday 30 September 2001

us president George W Bush's position on a recent trade agreement with Jordan sends mixed signals on the issue of whether his administration will enforce the use of labour and environmental safeguards in trade relations. The us-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (fta) was negotiated in October 2000. It is considered 'groundbreaking' by Democrats and the us environmentalists -- not because it will have an impact on the us trade (since trade with Jordan amounts very little), but because for the first time, fta would allow the two countries to enforce protective national regulations on labour and environmental standards.

The us House of Representatives approved the agreement on July 31, 2001, and is soon expected to be passed by the Senate. However, the Republicans oppose it. They are against giving other countries the power to take the us to international tribunals over labour and environment disputes. Even Bush is using fta to convince Congress to pass a bill that would give him 'fast track' clearance on trade agreements. Fast track gives the us president the power to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can 'approve or reject but not amend'. This power expired in 1994, and has not been renewed by the Congress since then.

Reactions to the labour and trade provisions of fta have been diverse. The us environmental groups and labour unions have hailed them. The National Wildlife Federation, a Virginia-based non-governmental organisation (ngo), believes that the accord "would help in making good progress towards creating an era of international trade that respects environment". Labour unions say the agreement is "a first important step in recognising workers' rights and environmental protections as an integral element of global trade relations". However, governments and ngos of the 'South' see the pact as an act of trade protectionism.

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