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USTR Uses Trade Preference Programs to Advance Worker Rights

November 25, 2015

Launches GSP Review of Thailand; Resumes Reviews of Uzbekistan, Niger, Fiji, Georgia, & Iraq

Washington, D.C. - The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced today that it will hold a hearing in January on several country practices reviews of worker rights under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade preference program.  The hearing will include testimony on a newly launched review of worker rights in Thailand based on a petition submitted by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).  The petition alleges that Thailand is not meeting the GSP program’s country eligibility criteria on worker rights with respect to freedom of association, collective bargaining, acceptable conditions of work, and forced labor, including with respect to migrant workers. 

“Protecting labor rights is a core priority of President Obama’s trade agenda,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.  “The United States stands ready to work with Thailand and other trading partners to advance respect for worker rights and to generate sustainable, broadly-shared growth that builds strong and stable economies.  We will use every tool at our disposal – including trade preference programs such as GSP and the African Growth and Opportunity Act and our free trade agreements – to improve labor laws and working conditions in countries with which we trade.  We look forward to engaging with Thailand and other foreign governments on the worker rights reviews under GSP.”

Eligibility reviews under the GSP program typically involve a public hearing and the solicitation of views from interested stakeholders.  USTR will hold a public hearing January 14-15, 2016 to gather information relevant to its review of the Thailand petition.  During that hearing, USTR also will receive testimony on ongoing GSP worker rights reviews concerning Uzbekistan, Niger, Fiji, Georgia, and Iraq to determine whether those countries are meeting the GSP eligibility requirements.  The reviews of these countries were suspended during the recent lapse in GSP authorization.  

Worker rights criteria are a key component of U.S trade preference programs and trade agreements and have helped to advance greater respect for worker rights in many countries that are trading partners of the United States.  The United States is committed to working cooperatively with our trading partners to improve respect for labor rights, but the Administration is equally committed to taking strong action when progress is not made, as it did in suspending trade benefits for Bangladesh under GSP in 2013 and for Swaziland under AGOA in 2014.  The United States also brought the first-ever labor rights-related dispute settlement action under a free trade agreement against Guatemala under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement.  In addition, the Administration recently completed negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which contains the strongest protections for workers in any trade agreement in history.  The TPP sets a benchmark for global trade agreements with fully enforceable commitments to provide in law and practice for the fundamental labor rights recognized by the International Labor Organization.

USTR also announced that it has closed a GSP review of worker rights in the Philippines based on progress by the Philippines government in addressing worker rights issues in that country, including through reforms of labor laws and regulations.