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NZ Leads The Way In Call For Labour Standards

NZ Leads The Way In Call For Labour Standards

PRESS RELEASE

11 November 2001

NEW ZEALAND LEADS THE WAY IN CALL FOR LABOUR STANDARDS AT THE WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION

The New Zealand Government was the first World Trade Organisation member to call for a closer link between trade negotiations and decent working conditions at the WTO ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar.

Trade Minister Jim Sutton told the plenary session of the WTO meeting that, as an organisation that aspired to raise living standards around the world, it was time that the WTO brought a harder edge to work that would contribute to the elimination of poverty.

"Multilateral trade agreements are not ends in themselves. The goal they serve is to improve living standards in the countries whose governments have negotiated them.

"My government feels we all need to do a better job in explaining that what we do here in the WTO is absolutely consistent with what our colleagues are doing in other organisations, such as those dealing with issues such as sustainable development, and the promotion of decent working conditions.

"My government wants labour standards better integrated with trade agreements, but not, I repeat not, by impeding in any way access to markets for developing countries.

"We also want a better working relationship between international organisations. But at the same time, we are mindful that each organisation will best serve the whole by focusing on its own core purpose."

The linking of trade negotiations and labour standards is a new concept, and one vigorously opposed by developing nations who fear the linkage will be used by rich nations to block their trade.

Mr Sutton said it was clear from the reactions of other WTO member ministers at the meeting that New Zealand would not succeed in getting labour standards and trade linked in any declaration from this week's WTO meeting.

"But every good idea has to start somewhere. New Zealand does not intend to stop pushing for that linkage."

Labour MP Graham Kelly, the chairman of Parliament's foreign affairs, trade and defence select committee who is also attending the WTO meeting in Qatar, said that in his view, the inclusion of labour standards was essential for the ongoing ability of governments to be able to deal with the consequences of new trade agreements.

"Jim Sutton responded magnificently to requests from members of the New Zealand delegation by articulating this issue forcibly at the WTO meeting."

Council of Trade Unions vice-president Paul Goulter, who is the special advisor on labour to the New Zealand delegation at the WTO meeting, said he welcomed the commitment voiced by Mr Sutton to ensure that labour standards were an upfront part of trade negotiations.

"We would like to see more support for the New Zealand Government approach from other countries, and we'll be working hard to see that happens."

The Doha meeting began at 5.30pm on November 9 (3.30am November 10 NZ time) and was opened by the Emir of Qatar. It runs till November 13.

ENDS


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