U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today announced that the U.S. government has requested labor consultations with the Government of Guatemala under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). This is the first time that the United States has requested consultations under the labor chapter of a U.S. free trade agreement.See also Fox, NYT, WOLA, and CounterPunch.
"We are sending a strong message that the Obama Administration will vigorously enforce labor obligations under U.S. free trade agreements," said Secretary Solis. "We are committed to ensuring that U.S. businesses and workers compete on a level playing field and that labor rights are respected in our trading partner countries."
In April 2008, the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan worker organizations filed a public submission under the CAFTA-DR alleging that the Guatemalan government violated its CAFTA-DR labor commitments, including failing to effectively enforce its labor laws. After reviewing the submission, the Labor Department issued a public report finding significant weaknesses in Guatemala's enforcement of its labor laws.
Since then, the U.S. government has conducted an extensive examination of Guatemala's compliance with its commitments under the CAFTA-DR labor chapter. It appears that Guatemala is failing to meet its obligation with respect to enforcement of labor laws on the right of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and acceptable conditions of work.
By launching labor consultations with Guatemala and formally putting the issue on track for possible dispute settlement, the U.S. government hopes to see the problems effectively resolved.
The U.S. government also has grave concerns about labor-related violence in Guatemala, a problem which is serious and apparently deteriorating. The United States has repeatedly raised this serious problem with Guatemala and will examine and take this issue up with Guatemala in the near future.
Just a few thoughts.
- It's sad that a complaint against Guatemala really has little to do with Guatemala. Guatemala has always been a dangerous country for labor. The US knew that when it signed CAFTA. I'm not sure that it's much worse today.
- The complaint is more likely to placate some members of the left wing of the Democratic Party opposed to free trade agreements in general. Going after Guatemala might gain support for the passage of free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.
- When do we start talking about the US' special relationship with Colombia? Colombia is ranked the second most dangerous country for labor.
- Even if you have good intentions ("encouraging" the Guatemalan Government to improve labor protections), do you really win the PR battle by talking about levying economic sanctions against one of the poorer countries in Latin America?