Background Information: FTAs, Trade Programs, and "Fair Trade"

Trade agreements are negotiated between two or more countries. Recent trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries have been dubbed Free Trade Agreements because they seek to lower barriers to trade, like quotas and duties. But recent trade agreements are as much "investment agreements" as trade agreements because they contain rules to protect investors as well as traders.   They do not include effective rules to protect workers, consumers, or the environment. Key trade agreements between the U.S. and the Americas include:

U.S. Trade Programs

The government has unilateral trade programs that provide duty-free or reduced duties on selected exports from countries in the Global South. These "trade preference" programs began in the 1980s with the stated goal of promoting development through increased exports. These programs contain provisions conditioning benefits on the exporting country taking steps to improve worker rights.

U.S. Trade Representative

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is the part of the Executive branch that negotiates trade programs, sets the Administration's trade policy and enforces U.S. trade laws. USTR has responsibility for enforcing worker rights provisions of U.S. preferential trade programs like GSP.  The Department of Labor (DOL) has responsibility for enforcing the labor provisions of trade agreements like NAFTA abnd CAFTA.  USLEAP periodically files worker rights petitions with USTR documenting worker rights violations in specific countries and has supported complaints filed with the DOL under CAFTA and NAFTA.

World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization is a global organization that represents most governments and sets global rules for trade and investment. Its given mandate is to promote increased trade by lowering barriers to trade and investment. Under current WTO rules, global trade cannot "discriminate" in favor of goods that are produced under socially or environmentally sound practices.

Fair Trade, Free Trade, and "Fair Trade"

The term "fair trade" is often used in the globalization debate to describe trade rules that include protections for workers, consumers, and the environment, in contrast to "free trade" which does not include such protections.

"Fair trade" is also used in a much more narrow sense, referring to specific products that have received a Fair Trade label certifying that the producer, usually a small producer or a cooperative, has met specific Fair Trade criteria and receives a fair price. Fair Trade as well as other certification and auditing schemes have burgeoned in recent years, posing both opportunities and challenges to worker rights advocates.

USLEAP position on Fair Trade and certification schemes

USLEAP position on Worker Rights and the Split Between Fair Trade USA and FLO