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Africa: Trade Unions Speak Out on Trade

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 17, 2007 (070317)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Labor leaders from Brazil, India, South Africa and other developing countries spoke out earlier this month opposing demands by rich countries for sweeping cuts in tariffs. And global trade unions, formalizing new international ties, are also demanding that rich countries respond to the need for better terms for African cotton producers.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains statements from the recently formed International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on these issues, highlighting a more active and visible stand on international trade negotiations.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on trade, see

For more information on this and related issues, contact Carin Smaller, Trade Information Project Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Geneva Office 15 rue des Savoises Geneva 1205 ph: +41 22 789 0734 fax: +41 22 789 0733

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

WTO: Trade Unions Call for Action on Cotton

Brussels, 15 March 2007: Global trade unions are demanding that this week's high-level session on cotton at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva must embark on a root and branch reform of trade in cotton instead of tinkering at the edges. The aim must be to secure concrete progress to address the needs of cotton producing developing countries and their workers and thus help lift those countries, particularly in Africa, out of poverty. Cotton production is hugely important for a number of developing country producers, however despite the listing of cotton as a priority issue by the WTO in 2004 and 2005 by the WTO, little real progress has been made on addressing the enormous subsidies which some industrialised countries provide to domestic growers in the sector. This is having disastrous consequences in Africa, in particular.

While the WTO meeting this week is supposed to address both trade reform and development assistance issues concerning cotton production, the trade unions believe that it must be treated as a core development issue. Currently, Africa produces some of the world's best cotton, but, nearly 97% of Africa's cotton is exported in raw form and only 3% is transformed on the continent. Africa's garment producers must then import finished fabric from other continents at considerable additional cost which, in turn, makes them uncompetitive in global markets.

At the same time, the real issues confronting the agriculture sector overall are not being addressed in the multilateral trading system. Although income from cotton is crucial for some of the poorest developing countries, domestic food production capacity has been lost due to subsidised dumping, and the international financial institutions have been pushing developing countries to orient agriculture towards exports, to the detriment of domestic needs. The sustainability of this export-oriented strategy is highly questionable, and getting fair prices and greater export volumes for cotton can only be one part of a comprehensive development agenda. Instability in cotton prices and the over-pricing of inputs such as fertilisers, fuel and chemicals also need to be addressed. Also, domestic food production should play a central role in a strategic development agenda in developing countries, in order to move away from the dependency on cotton

In addition, the living and working conditions of workers and small farmers in the cotton sector must be given priority. The sector is characterised by low wages, high injury and illness rates due especially to fertilisers and pesticides, child labour and forced labour, and poor or non-existent health, sanitary and medical facilities. Many migrant workers with little or no social protection work in the sector. "In some major exporting countries, cotton workers do not have even the basic human right to join a trade union", according to Ron Oswald, General Secretary of the Global Union Federation IUF which covers the agriculture sector.

The union bodies are also pressing for greater use of locally-grown cotton in production of textiles and garments in developing countries. "The best way of combating poverty is through job creation and one way of doing that in Africa is to process raw materials like cotton in the continent, adding value and promoting growth" said Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the ITGLWF, the Global Union Federation for the textiles and garment sector. "Currently, developing countries are experiencing a lose-lose situation, on the one hand being forced to export raw cotton, but, on the other being stopped in their tracks by subsidized production in the industrialized world. The WTO must take the reins and deal with this urgently before even further damage is done to workers and their communities in the developing country cotton producers."

"The story of cotton today shows just how much needs to be done to reform the international trade and financial systems", said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder. "Workers in some of the world's poorest countries are bearing the brunt of global policies that are undermining economies and communities and resulting in exploitation and growing inequality worldwide".

Founded on November 1 2006, the ITUC represents 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 304 national affiliates.

For more information, please contact the ITUC Press Department on +32 2 224 0204 or +32 476 621 018.
16/03/2007 - themes : Southern Africa

Strength in unity: a new international trade union confederation is born

International Trade Union Confederation

ITUC Media Release


Vienna, 1 November 2006: Today will see the dawn of a new trade union international, a stronger and more united voice of workers' worldwide set to tackle the challenge of globalisation with renewed energy and hope.

As the culmination of a process that has inspired new hope in the face of huge challenges, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) will be be officially formed at this morning's opening session of its Founding Congress in Vienna. The Founding Congress of the ITUC, which will run until 3 November, was preceded yesterday by the dissolution congresses of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL). The new ITUC will comprise the affiliated organisations of the former ICFTU and WCL together with eight other national trade union organisations that will for the first time affiliate to a global body.

The international trade union movement is adapting in order to remain a key player in an economic climate that is creating more losers than winners. The imbalances of economic globalisation are having a devastating effect on millions of workers. Off-shoring, abuse of workers' rights and increasing poverty are all examples of the negative impact of these developments.

'The creation of the ITUC will solidify the trade union movement's capacity at the national and international levels', declared Guy Ryder, the former General Secretary of the ICFTU and prospective General Secretary of the ITUC. 'Stronger, we will exert more influence on companies, governments and the international financial and trade institutions. The founding of the ITUC is an integral part of the process of uniting the power of trade unionism," he added.

Willy Thys, the former General Secretary of the WCL, said today: 'There is no doubt that the ITUC will become an effective countervailing force in a society that has changed enormously, with workers' rights being flouted under the pressure created by the current trajectory of " race to the bottom" globalisation'.

The Founding Congress, a historic event for the international union movement, will begin this morning with a formal opening ceremony. This will be followed by a plenary debate and an address by Juan Somavia, the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The programme for Thursday, 2 November, will include panel discussions on the impact of globalisation, including "Cohesion and chaos the global institutions" and "Global unions global companies". Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, will address the congress in the morning via a satellite video link. The final day of the Congress, Friday 3 November, will focus on the adoption of the ITUC's programme and the establishment of regional structures. Those decisions will be followed by the election of the new organisation's General Secretary and General Council, with the Council electing the remaining office bearers following the close of the Congress.

The ITUC represents 168 million workers through its 306 affiliated organisations within 154 countries and territories. More information on the ITUC can be found at The ITUC is also partner in Global Unions:

For more information please contact the ITUC Press Department on +43 (0) 664 593 6190.

Trade Unions Unite Against Rising Unemployment: WTO Talks Could Worsen Job Climate

[This press release and statement, as well as additional related information, can be found at or

Founded on November 1 2006, the ITUC represents 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 304 national affiliates.]

Geneva, Switzerland, 9 March 2007 (ITUC OnLine) - Trade union leaders from Brazil, India, South Africa, and other developing countries, traveled this week to a Global Unions meeting in Geneva to deliver a message to WTO members rising unemployment if their countries accept demands by developed countries to open up markets for manufactured goods. The trade unions' visit comes amid increasing pressure on developing countries to accept steep cuts on industrial tariffs in order to unblock the stalled Doha trade talks.

One worker, Badiah Peterson, a 41-year old clothing manufacturer from Cape Town, South Africa, already lost her job when the swimwear company she worked for was forced to close down because of the surge of cheap clothing imports, mainly from China. Clothing imports into South Africa, increased by 480% in US Dollar value over three years and contributed to 70 000 jobs being lost since 2003 - a third of the entire industry.

Stories like Badiah's are happening to manufacturing workers all over the developing world in textiles, clothing, electronic goods, white goods, paper, plastics, automobile, and metals.

"The situation could become a lot worse," said Guy Ryder, ITUC General Secretary "if current proposals at the WTO for draconian cuts in developing country industrial tariffs are agreed to."

Trade unions refuse to leave the fate of millions of workers in the hands of WTO negotiators. They are biting back. Trade Unions from NAMA-11developing countries-including South Africa's COSATU and Brazil's CUT-have formed a NAMA-11 trade union group to defend the interests of their workers. The trade unions set out their demands in an ITUC press conference today to ensure industries and employment in their countries are protected.

"We call upon our Ministers to resist any further concessions in the manufactured goods negotiations," said Jacy Afonso de Melo, CUT-Brazil. "The existing NAMA-11 position already goes too far and will have negative consequences for manufacturing employment and industrial development in our countries."

"Our governments must ensure the commitments they make in relation to manufactured goods are in-line with our different stages of development and that adequate flexibilities are built into any final agreement," said Rudi Dicks of COSATU.

NAMA-11 Trade Union Statement on the Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) negotiations at the WTO

In a historic show of unity, trade unions from major developing countries are speaking out on the impact of proposals currently on the table in the NAMA negotiations.

Trade Union centres from NAMA-11 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Namibia, Philippines, South Africa, Tunisia and Venezuela) call upon Trade ministers and negotiators of the NAMA-11 group to make no further concessions in the area of NAMA, given that their existing position would already deliver deeply negative results for manufacturing employment and industrial development in many developing countries. Trade talks that promised to deliver to the world's poor and to promote the needs and interests of workers in developing countries are not achieving these results.

The current NAMA-11 position, dating from 29 June 2006, states that a difference of at least 25 points is needed between the coefficient for developed and the coefficient for developing countries. Furthermore, the NAMA-11 position states that flexibilities as formulated in paragraph 8 have to be at least at the level of the ones currently in brackets (i.e. 5% and 10% as stipulated in the July 2004 framework).

From a trade union point of view the current NAMA-11 position would have substantial negative effects and should be reviewed.

Assuming a coefficient of 10 for developed countries, this would result in a coefficient of 35 for developing countries under the NAMA-11 position. But even a coefficient of 35 would have serious consequences for the applied rates of a number of tariffs in several of our countries, especially in the sectors of clothing, textiles, footwear, leather, plastic and rubber, furniture and automobile. Even the use of paragraph 8 flexibilities would not prevent such consequences. Consequences will be twofold. On the one hand the reductions in tariffs beyond currently applied rates will have a devastating effect on employment in our countries. With unemployment rates already at high levels and challenges of youth unemployment and decent work deficits at the forefront, additional policy elements that will lead to job losses cannot be taken up.

Secondly, the basis on which the formula and flexibilities are constructed prevents our countries from making future changes in response to policy needs. The Swiss formula reduces all tariff lines to the same extent without flexibility and without exception (apart from the paragraph 8 flexibilities) and with no changes possible in the future. The flexibilities, already low in itself, can not be altered in the future in response to changing needs for protection in one or the other sector. In other words, the current industrial structure will be captured in the NAMA agreement without possibility for such future changes. Given that all countries are at different stages of development and have different future needs, a one-size-fits-all formula cannot deliver in terms of development and will prevent our economies from developing.

The Swiss formula also reduces tariff escalation, which will negatively affect our countries' abilities to protect labour-intensive downstream sectors.

Moreover, the principle of less than full reciprocity that is at the centre of the NAMA-11 statements in the WTO will not be respected with the position that the NAMA-11 has taken, i.e. a difference in coefficients of 25 points. Even such a difference will still result in higher percentage reductions by developing countries than by developed countries.

Therefore we call upon the NAMA-11 members to:

  • Pressure developed countries to make unconditional offers of greater market access in Agriculture, which must not be linked with NAMA. The benefits from market access in agriculture are likely to flow to a few countries only, and are likely to benefit capital intensive agriculture. Industrial development and jobs in manufacturing in our countries should not be exchanged against these. Even in countries that benefit from market access in agriculture, it is not right to have a trade-off between future industrial growth and agriculture.
  • Ensure that developing countries can apply a tariff reduction that is in line with their stage of development, in conformity with the agreed principle of less than full reciprocity, and which should be substantially lower than the cuts undertaken by developed countries and the proposals for tariff cuts currently on the table.
  • Ensure that developing countries' "paragraph 8" flexibilities, as currently set out in the July 2004 framework, are expanded substantially. The flexibilities should allow for both the exemption of tariff lines as well as lesser tariff cuts for a number of tariff lines. Developing countries should not have to choose between these two options. At the same time, these percentages should be increased to a percentage considerably higher than the current levels in brackets, and criteria with regard to import value should be dropped. This would assist developing countries in managing the adjustment of sensitive sectors and preventing the social disruption caused by job losses and closure of enterprises that would result from further liberalization; these flexibilities should also allow for changes over time in the tariff lines that will be selected to be covered by paragraph 8, so as to respond to future industrial development needs.
  • Maintain their unity at the WTO in the face of pressure from developed countries
  • Ensure the Doha Development Round benefits developing countries. By agreeing to some of the proposals currently on the table or by relaxing the group's current positions, this round will not deliver on its aim of promoting development for the world's poor. If anything, it will keep them in low-level agriculture and minerals extracting jobs.


Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary COSATU, South Africa

Jacy Afonso de Melo, CUT, Brazil

Adolfo Aguirre, Secretario de Relaciones Internacionales, CTA, Argentina

Dennis George, General Secretary, FEDUSA, South Africa

HMS, India

TUCP, Philippines

CGT, Argentina

UGTT, Tunisia

KSBSI, Indonesia

NUNW, Namibia

Manuel Cova, Secretario General, CTV, Venezuela

Osvaldo Vera, Coordinador Nacional UNT, Venezuela

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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