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After the === line we’ll post the contents of an Inside US Trade news item in which US Trade Representative Froman responded to Congressman Miller, a senior House Democrat, whose letter was referred to by the Teamster President

In a letter dated 26th August 2013 to the US Trade Representative, transport workers’ union Teamster’s head James Hoffa questioned the Hanoi regime’s suitability as a trading partner – In particular, Vietnam uses forced child labor and bans unions while negotiating the trade & investment pact TPP with the US and 10 other countries.

The Teamsters are also running an online petition asking the USTR to ensure that Vietnam’s rulers do not benefit from TPP unless they first stop using forced child labor and respect union rights.

Below is the Teamster letter to the USTR. If you want to quickly scan the main details, the texts we bold may help.

INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD of TEAMSTERS

25 Louisiana Avenue, NW, Washington. OC 20001

JAMES P. HOFFA, General President

KEN HALL, General Secretary Treasurer

202.674.6800, www teamster org

August 26. 2013

Ambassador Michael Froman

Office of the Untied States Trade Representative, 600 17th Street. N.W., Washington. D.C. 20508

Dear Ambassador Froman:

On behalf of our 1.4 Million members. I look forward to speaking with you at the next meeting ol’ the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN). or at our earliest mutual convenience, and sharing with you a number of concerns about labor rights and other aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In anticipation of that conversation. I want to bring to your attention some recent developments and research relating to the documented lack of workers’ rights and prevalence of child labor in Vietnam.

As you may know, a few weeks ago the Department of Labor published the list of countries required by Execulive Order 13126 “Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor”), and included garments made in Vietnam among the products for which there is a reasonable basis to believe are manufactured by forced child labor. This DOL determination comports with the evidence and conclusions in the enclosed report, Made in Vietnam: Labor Rights Violations in Vietnam’s Export  Manufacturing Sector, recently published by the Worker Rights Consortium.

I note that the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce also sent you a copy of the WRC white paper last month. Congressman Miller asked tor your assessment whether Vietnam “would have the ability to comply with the obligations under the labor chapter of the TPP” or could meet the basic standards set forth in the ILO’s 1998 Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. I take this opportunity to echo his good questions and support his request for you to describe what specific steps the Administration is prepared to take to ensure that Vietnam can comply with the basic labor rights that we take for granted in the U.S. Assuming that you agree that Vietnam will not be in compliance with a strong labor chapter on the date that the TPP is signed, are you offering or suggesting a “phase-in” period for Vietnam to reform its labor laws and demonstrate basic respect for workers’ rights?

The Wall Street Journal reports this week that the U.S. deficit on trade of manufactured goods in this year’s first halt shrank to $225 billion Irom $227 billion a year earlier, which is good news for America’s working families. The Teamsters are not alone in our urgent concern that this hopeful trend will not be undermined by predictable trade deficits under the TPP, especially on account of cheap imports in shoes and apparel from Vietnam or any country in which forced child labor has been documented.

Looking forward to our first opportunity to discuss these and other issues around the TPP, I remain

Sincerely yours,

JPH/md

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UPDATE 28/8/2013:  The Teamster letter above referred to a letter by the senior House Democrat Miller to the USTR. Below, the Inside US Trade paper reported that Froman replied in writing, arguing (and promising) that his administration will use Vietnam’s inclusion in the TPP to pressure it to improve labour rights. Several important questions remain unanswered: Would Hanoi be given long phase-in period during which it continues to ban unions (when it joined the WTO, Hanoi enjoyed some tariff phase-in holidays as long as 10 years)? How determined will the US administration be to pursue labour rights? How can it even do so if labor rights are not subject to enforcement provisions of the TPP agreement?

Froman Defends Vietnam’s Inclusion In TPP As Way To Boost Labor Rights

Posted: August 26, 2013

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has defended the Obama administration’s strategy of engaging in trade talks with Vietnam despite its poor labor rights record, after facing pressure from a senior House Democrat to evaluate whether Vietnam can really fulfill the labor commitments of an eventual Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal.

In a written response to an earlier letter from Rep. George Miller (D-CA), ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Froman skirted around Miller’s demand to “assess” Vietnam’s readiness to take on new labor obligations and argued instead that including Vietnam in TPP can serve as an incentive to get it to improve.

“Like other trade partners, there are areas where Vietnam will need  to take action in order to ensure that it meets its TPP obligations and the Administration will work with Vietnam to ensure that those reforms take place,” Froman wrote in his letter, which is dated Aug. 14. “By including Vietnam in the TPP negotiations, we have an additional mechanism to improve adherence to labor rights and working conditions in Vietnam that would not exist otherwise.”

Miller, in his July 24 letter, had strongly questioned whether Vietnam could comply with the labor obligations that are to be included in TPP given the “stark evidence” that export industry workers in Vietnam are “routinely denied basic labor standards.” He also sent to Froman a copy of a report by the Worker Rights Consortium detailing violations in Vietnam regarding freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, as well as instances of child labor, forced labor and gender discrimination (Inside U.S. Trade, July 26).

Miller also asked Froman for an assessment of Vietnam’s ability to comply with the obligations stated in the labor chapter of TPP, for which the 19th round of negotiations was launched last week. If such an assessment proved too difficult due to the ongoing nature of the TPP negotiations, Miller wrote, USTR could assess whether Vietnam is in compliance with basic labor standards outlined in what is known as the “May 10” agreement.

The agreement, reached on May 10, 2007, between House Democrats and the Bush administration, outlined provisions that should be in all subsequent trade agreements regarding labor, the environment and intellectual property rights. The labor provisions incorporate the 1998 International Labor Organization’s Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which are: freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor, the effective abolition of child labor and elimination of workplace discrimination.

Froman, in his response, also noted that President Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang in their meetings at the end of July discussed “the importance of protecting the most vulnerable populations while pursuing economic development, including working together to combat child and forced labor.”

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