- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

The AFL-CIO labor federation yesterday asked the Bush administration to investigate China’s treatment of its workers and retaliate with trade sanctions after it catalogs abuses.

“The Chinese work force is so large and its labor repression so severe, it is dragging down standards for the entire world economy,” said Richard Trumka, the labor federation’s secretary-treasurer.

President Bush’s top trade official two years ago dismissed a similar complaint from organized labor, saying it “would take us down a path of economic isolationism.”

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, and Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, joined the AFL-CIO in filing the petition, adding some congressional heft to the complaint.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office yesterday said the administration would look at the petition, but it appeared unlikely to change policies.

“The administration believes that a strong and growing trade relationship, driven by mutual interest, is the best way to encourage economic, political and social reform in China,” said Steve Norton, spokesman for the trade representative’s office.

Mr. Norton noted cooperative agreements signed between China and the Labor Department as signs of progress. The June 2004 letters of understanding call for cooperation and technical assistance on wage and hour regulations, public awareness of wage and hour laws, occupational safety, and mine safety.

The USTR’s office has 45 days to formally respond by rejecting the AFL-CIO petition or beginning the investigation process.

Mr. Trumka acknowledged the difficult task his group faces in persuading the White House to pursue the case.

“We want them to do it. Now, if you looked at their record and you were a betting person, would you bet they would do it? Probably it would not be a good bet,” he said.

But Mr. Trumka said the administration in the two years since it rejected the last petition has made no meaningful progress improving human rights in China, creating a new rationale for increasing economic pressure on China.

The AFL-CIO’s petition outlined multiple abuses of international labor standards and human rights, including instances of child labor and forced labor.

China’s policies violate U.S. labor law by forcing unfair competition on U.S. workers, the AFL-CIO said.

The federation said factory wages in China are as low as 15 cents to 50 cents an hour. Average hourly earnings, excluding overtime, for U.S. manufacturing workers was $15.89 in May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

The petition quantified the damage and said tariffs on Chinese goods ranging from 10 percent to almost 80 percent would even the trade relationship.

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