Human rights more central than ever to US trade policy

In a historic first, a senior US diplomat pointedly cited human rights, humanitarian access and national security in addressing the IMF, World Bank and other financial leaders this week.

At a session of the World Bank/IMF meetings in Bali, the US delegation stressed that this year’s review of U.S. export controls on dual-use products includes important components of the human rights and humanitarian objectives for which these controls are designed, according to a senior U.S. official at the meeting.

Since 2005, the U.S. has included in its export control regulations special safeguards requiring entities to prove they need access to dual-use goods for security purposes when they are seeking to export them for other purposes. A senior US official said that this year’s update includes steps to improve certainty and enforcement, while bringing U.S. export control authorities in line with revised international export control rules, such as the Agreement on the Suppression of Terrorism and Al-Qaeda and its respective Optional Protocols.

“We are in the process of updating all the components of the world’s export control regime,” the senior US official said. “U.S. export controls are in alignment with the laws and norms that the administration’s trade agenda and human rights agenda share.”

Echoing other senior officials’ sentiments, the official said that the United States’ trade agenda and human rights agenda have a common thread.

“The trade agenda under Trump has been aggressive and demanding,” the official said. “Human rights are part of it, and every one of these trade talks have linked with human rights and issues like in labor, production, repatriation and other labor issues.”

At a recent financial conference in Luxembourg, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin encouraged countries to build international consensus on government support for the human rights agenda and on binding rules to prevent egregious abuses against the vulnerable. He urged support for the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and for the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to take up policing standards.

Rebecca Peterson, director of the Washington Office on Latin America at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said that the bilateral dialogue and joint statement of purpose between the U.S. and other countries was a major development.

“The US understands there are real constraints on humanitarian goods exports,” Peterson said. “It’s now in negotiation with the European Union, Japan and Canada about giving more clarity to the market and creating some additional space.”

The senior US official said the meetings in Bali included discussions on bilateral issues between the US and other countries, but that since these discussions were primarily about cooperation around global trade, US officials expressed the US administration’s strong view that multilateral trade agreements such as the TPP should be negotiated in a higher level.

“Ultimately, the biggest trade priority for the United States under the current administration is the need to renegotiate global trade agreements,” Peterson said. “It will be no surprise if the rhetoric surrounding future TTIPs and the WTO fights intensified.”

Other objectives cited by the U.S. at the meeting included improving transparency and accountability of project monitoring and reporting, as well as instituting improved traceability and surveillance practices for goods.

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