CHICAGO (JGL) — The Office of the United States Trade Representative has announced that it has closed the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) review of worker rights abuses in the Philippines after the Philippines government addressed worker rights issues in that country, including reforms of labor laws and regulations. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman made the announcement in a press statement where he also announced that the USTR would hold a hearing in January on several country practices reviews of worker rights under the 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,” according to Ambassador 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.”
Froman made the announcement on the heels of his trip to Manila when he was among the U.S. government officials, who accompanied President Obama to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit more than a week ago.
“PH WELCOMES REVIEW CLOSURE”
In a statement, Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said, “The Philippines welcomes the formal closure by the USTR of the GSP country review case regarding our protection and promotion of workers’ rights. It is a testament to the great strides of the Philippine Government, under the Aquino administration, towards establishing a system of governance that is based on the rule of law, respect for human rights, and the notion of accountability.”
According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Manila, in 2013, Philippine exports under the US GSP reached US$ 1.256 billion, making it the 5th largest user of the program. Major Philippine exports under the US GSP include measuring and checking instruments, appliances and machines (US$ 78.2M); other cane sugar (US$ 74.8M); telescopic sights for rifles not designed for use with infrared light (US$ 61.9M); other acyclic monoamines and their derivatives (US$ 60.4M); and insulated electric conductors (US$ 60M).
In 2012, when President Aquino affirmed the recommendation of his Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz to side with the Philippine Airlines (PAL) management to terminate the employment of 2,600 members of PAL Employees Association (PALEA) because PAL was in the red although Mr. Aquino’s information is based on “incomplete information by his subalterns,” Gerardo “Gerry” F. Rivera, PALEA president, was forced to accept an invitation from a U.S.-based non-government organization, International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), which wrote a letter earlier to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in Washington, D.C. to let Mr. Rivera ventilate the violations of the labor rights of Filipinos under the Aquino government, notably against PALEA members.
BALDOZ DISPATCHED TO USTR FORUM
There in Washington, D.C., Rivera spoke before a hearing organized by the USTR and laid bare the union busting instigated by PAL management backed by the Philippine government.
It prompted the Philippine government to send to the USTR forum Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Labor Undersecretary Rebecca Chato and Undersecretary of Justice Francisco Baraan and other officials from the Philippine Embassy, and Joshua Mata, secretary general of Alliance of Progressive Labor of the Philippines to testify before the USTR, which reviewed the workers rights in the Philippines, including the passing of reforms of labor laws and regulations.
In a statement announcing the review closure, the DTI noted that this issue had been in the forefront of the DTI-led Trade and Investment Facilitation Agreement (TIFA) meetings between the Philippines and the US, and in various bilateral meetings, including representations by the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C.
HARD WORK AND EXCELLENT COLLABORATION
“The hard work and excellent collaboration among the Departments of Labor and Employment (DOLE), DTI, Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. made this possible,” DTI Undersecretary Adrian S. Cristobal, Jr. added.
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.
USTR said 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.