Chairman Blumenauer Leads Colleagues in Encouraging Biden Administration to Continue to Advocate for Worker Protections at Upcoming World Trade Organization Conference

October 12, 2021
Press Release
Letter follows decades of congressional action at nexus of labor standards and trade

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)—the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade—is leading eighteen of his colleagues in pressing the Biden administration to emphasize strong worker protections at the upcoming twelfth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC12).

MC12 is scheduled to begin on November 30 in Geneva, Switzerland, amid historic economic distress and disruptions that have impacted every country in the world.

We support the Biden Administration’s focus on a worker-centered trade policy and were encouraged by the forced labor proposal proposed during the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations.  For far too long, labor issues have not been central to the work of the WTO despite clear indications of its prominence in the foundational legal text of the organization as well as Congress’ intent for the WTO to address labor and worker rights,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter addressed to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. 

“We request that the United States seek to negotiate a Ministerial Statement at MC12 that affirms overarching commitments on labor and full employment priorities as reflected in the preamble of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO.  We also request that the United States propose at MC12 a working party on worker rights as directed in Section 131 of the URAA.  Until consensus is reached for a working party, we implore you to create an informal working group with like-minded countries to discuss the issue of labor standards and trade,” they continued. “In the wake of historic economic distress and disruptions over the last year that have touched nearly every country around the world, the United States and WTO Member States must directly engage and elevate labor and employment standards within the organization.” 

The lawmakers also encouraged the Biden administration to establish a WTO working party on worker rights to examine the linkage of trade and internationally recognized worker rights on developing and developed countries, address systemic labor violations, and coordinate engagement between the WTO and International Labor Organization (ILO). Congress passed legislation 27 years ago to require the President to create such a party, but no previous administration has successfully established one. 

Full text of the letter is available here and follows below. 

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Dear Ambassador Tai: 

As you prepare for the twelfth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC12), we write today to emphasize the importance of including labor and worker rights in the agenda.  We support the Biden Administration’s focus on a worker-centered trade policy and were encouraged by the forced labor proposal proposed during the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations.  For far too long, labor issues have not been central to the work of the WTO despite clear indications of its prominence in the foundational legal text of the organization as well as Congress’ intent for the WTO to address labor and worker rights.  

The preamble of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO identifies “raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand” as part of the primary goal in creating the WTO.  Moreover, in 1994 Congress passed the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) which approved and implemented into U.S. law the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO.  Section 131 of the URAA directs the President to seek the establishment of a WTO working party on worker rights to examine the linkage of trade and internationally recognized worker rights on developing and developed countries, address systemic labor violations, and coordinate engagement between the WTO and International Labor Organization (ILO).  To date, no working party exists nor have there been any recent progress to establish one.  

Over the last 25 years, Congress has prioritized the important nexus between labor standards and trade.  Many bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements contain requirements to abide by internationally recognized worker rights.  Most countries across the spectrum of development stages have now come to accept and incorporate compliance with core labor standards as a necessary component of trade agreement commitments, as well as a prerequisite to receive trade preference program benefits.  A level playing field for trade cannot be achieved without elevating labor and employment standards within the WTO.  

We request that the United States seek to negotiate a Ministerial Statement at MC12 that affirms overarching commitments on labor and full employment priorities as reflected in the preamble of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO.  We also request that the United States propose at MC12 a working party on worker rights as directed in Section 131 of the URAA.  Until consensus is reached for a working party, we implore you to create an informal working group with like-minded countries to discuss the issue of labor standards and trade.   

In the wake of historic economic distress and disruptions over the last year that have touched nearly every country around the world, the United States and WTO Member States must directly engage and elevate labor and employment standards within the organization.  We look forward to the United States driving the long overdue and necessary debate at the global stage on labor and trade, and thereby, effectively bringing the voice of workers across the globe to the table to set a modern trade agenda.  We stand ready to support the United States in these efforts. 

Sincerely,