labels: economy - general, trade
US may raise the child labour bogey again to block Indian exportsnews
19 October 2007
Miffed by the non-operationalisation of the nuclear deal, the US is beginning to flex its muscles in areas that might directly impinge on India''s exports. Earlier this month, the US Department of Labour ominously issued a public notice eliciting comments on ''procedural guidelines'' for the development of a public list of goods from countries that employ child and forced labour in contravention of global labour standards.

There is every possibility that the US government is moving once again to publicly list Indian handmade carpets as products of child labour. At stake are India''s handicraft exports, which accounted for around $800 million of exports in 2006-07, with the US alone accounting for 50 per cent.

Other export items such as garments, sports goods, gems and jewellery too could come under the scanner owing to employment of labour below the legal working age. India has passed legislation banning child labour, but the central and state governments have to verify and monitor programmes to ensure that anti-child labour laws are implemented in letter and spirit.

Union minister of commerce Jairam Ramesh has called upon the Carpet Export Promotion Council to execute an independent social audit every year to convince NGOs that the incidence of child labour has indeed come down markedly over the past two decades.

The union ministries of commerce, labour as well as women and child development in sectors are launching a joint initiative wherever there is a strong public perception of the use of child labour. But experts say the authorities ought to have done sufficient homework earlier to convince overseas experts and authorities of India''s bonafides on the issue.

About a decade ago, the US made a similar bid to ban exports of handmade carpets from India on the child labour issue. But the combined efforts of the government and industry then proved successful in ensuring that the ban did not materialise.

Indian exporters today are able to give their buyers the ''Kaleen'' certificate to assure them that their carpets do not use child labour. A greater use of Kaleen would help combat adverse propaganda against India.

But child labour is not the only issue on which the US has sought to penalise Indian exporters. In the run-up to the first WTO ministerial meeting in 1996, the US wanted to link trade and labour standards, so that export industries that did not maintain global labour standards like the advanced countries would not be able to secure market access. Fortunately the issue has not made any headway in the WTO.

But now, especially in the light of snail''s pace of progress on the Doha Round coupled with growing bilateralism, countries such as India stand to face the wrath of trade majors if it crosses them on other issues.

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US may raise the child labour bogey again to block Indian exports