(PIU) report that shows it is possible to balance an open system of
free trade with raising labour and animal welfare standards and
protecting human health and the environment. The UK government has
hopes that the analysis will be useful for trade negotiators,
interest groups, businesses and consumers alike.
The report, 'Rights of Exchange: Social, Health, Environmental and
Trade Objectives on the Global Stage', highlights growing public
concerns about how and where products are made and the extent to
which the trading system can accommodate labour standards, animal
welfare, human health and environmental objectives. While consumers
want more and clearer information about where and how products are
made, there is a real danger that these issues will be used as a
cloak for protectionism with negative impacts for everyone, but
especially for poorer countries.
The report's main conclusions are that:
* opening international markets can be expected to benefit social,
health and environmental objectives over time by raising standards
* but open markets will only deliver these benefits if supported
by the right policies - for example, measures to address increased
pollution or to improve health care systems;
* developed countries and international institutions need to do
more to help poorer countries gain market access for their
products and to implement supportive social, health and
* unilateral trade restrictions by rich countries to force poorer
ones to adopt higher standards will almost always be
* world trade rounds are not suitable as the main forum for
negotiating non-trade issues;
* the role of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is poorly
understood, but it provides an effective framework for trade;
* the trade rules need more clarity and transparency in several
areas including production processes, product labelling and the
precautionary principle; improvements are also needed to the
dispute settlement processes;
* more multilateral agreements are needed to address social,
health and environmental issues, with these agreements and trade
rules mutually supporting each other;
* there is much that business and consumers can do to influence
standards and government can play an enabling role in encouraging:
* voluntary initiatives by business and best practice in corporate
* better product labelling which can significantly improve
consumer choice and social, health and environmental outcomes.
The prime minister said:
'An open and rules-based trading system brings great opportunities
and benefits. As consumers, we now enjoy greater choice and
competitive prices; as businesses, we profit from greater access to
markets; and as citizens, we benefit from improvements to living
standards at home and abroad.
'However, trade liberalisation also presents new challenges on the
environment, conditions at work, human health and animal welfare.
But there is much that all of us can do - as government, businesses
and individual consumers - to help raise standards around the world.
'I welcome the PIU's report. The government's future policy-making
will be guided by the principles it sets out. We intend to use the
report's conclusions as the framework for our long-term agenda. I
also hope that its analysis will create a more informed and open
debate on the issues.'
Brian Wilson, minister of state at the Scotland Office, and sponsor
minister for the PIU report, said:
'This report shows that in general a liberal trading environment
brings economic benefits and social advances. It also identifies
areas where additional efforts are needed to help ensure that trade
liberalisation makes the maximum contribution to sustainable
development and poverty elimination.
'Trade cannot and should not be used indiscriminately as a big stick
with which to force change in developing countries. This approach is
usually seen by them as just another form of protectionism imposed by
rich countries. However there is a need to make further progress
through co-operation and support.'
Richard Caborn, minister of state at the department of trade and
'The PIU have provided a convincing and coherent intellectual
framework for addressing these complex issues. I welcome the report's
conclusions setting out the limits to the sensible use of trade
measures to pursue social, health and environmental objectives. In
addition, I strongly support the emphasis placed on the need for a
more coherent approach towards social, health, environmental and
trade objectives at the multilateral level and the important role of
business and consumers in bringing about change.'
Copies of the report, 'Rights of Exchange: Social,
Health, Environmental and Trade Objectives on the Global Stage',
can be obtained from the PIU on 020 7276 1452.