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March 22, 2007

International Public Strongly Favors Labor and Environmental Standards in Trade Agreements

Overwhelming Majorities in Many Developing Countries and the United States Support Protections

Yerevan—The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) today convened a roundtable discussion to present the results of the second in a series of reports based on a poll of worldwide opinion on key global issues. The report was devoted to labor and environmental standards in trade agreements. The meeting brought together citizens, members of environmental and international trade organizations, analysts, and media representatives.

ACNIS director of research Stepan Safarian delivered opening remarks. “As improvements in trade laws become international norms, Armenia will be compelled to make similar adjustments,” he said. “Even though Armenia’s economy cannot be compared with that of developed and developing countries, its general public opinion is well within their average. As a result, we must now prepare ourselves for the new conditions to be introduced in trade agreements.” ACNIS analyst Syuzanna Barseghian then presented the survey results.

Strong majorities in developing nations around the world support requiring countries that sign trade agreements to meet minimum labor and environmental standards, a multinational poll finds. Nine in 10 Americans also support such protections.

The leaders of less developed nations have generally opposed including language mandating minimum standards for working conditions and environmental protections in trade deals, arguing that such rules are protectionist and would undermine their ability to compete in major markets such as Europe and the United States.

Nonetheless, majorities in four developing countries in Asia—China, India, Thailand and the Philippines—and two middle income countries in Latin America—Argentina and Mexico—agree that trade agreements should require governments to maintain “minimum standards” for working conditions or for the protection of the environment. 

Large majorities in three eastern European countries—Poland, Armenia and Ukraine—also favor such protections as do an overwhelming majority of Israelis.

“It has often been assumed that when leaders of developing countries argue against including labor or environmental standards in trade agreements they represent the wishes of their people,” said Steven Kull, editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org. “However, it appears that these publics would like to see the international community put pressure on their governments to raise their standards.”

These findings are part of multinational study by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org, in cooperation with polling organizations around the world. The larger survey includes 17 countries—China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Israel, Armenia—and the Palestinian territories.

This is the second in a series of reports based on the survey analyzing international attitudes on key international issues. Not all questions were asked in all countries.

The U.S. public is nearly unanimous in its support of requiring that both labor (93%) and environmental standards (91%) be included in trade agreements. The Bush administration has opposed the inclusion of such rules in the past, fearing that they would complicate trade negotiations and might force the United States to change some of its own labor laws.

“The American public is clearly concerned that trade agreements fail to protect either workers or the environment,” said Christopher Whitney, executive director for Studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “This strengthens the hand of those in Congress who share this apprehension, particularly as the White House increases its willingness to negotiate these issues with Congress in advance of the June expiration of the President’s Trade Promotion Authority.”  

Among the poll’s other detailed findings:

  • The Chinese favor including labor standards in trade agreements by a margin of 84 percent to 8 percent and environmental protections by 85 percent to 8 percent.
  • The Indian public—whose government has been among those most opposed to linking trade with labor and environmental issues—support minimum labor standards by 56 percent to 25 percent and environmental protections by 60 percent to 28 percent.
  • Seven in 10 Thais (69%) say that environmental standards should be included in trade pacts. Thais were not asked about labor standards.
  • Fifty-five percent of Filipinos say trade pacts should include provisions to protect working conditions, but they are divided about environmental protections: 48 percent are in favor, 49 percent against.
  • Argentines overwhelmingly support including both types of protections in trade agreements: 89 percent are in favor of minimum standards on working conditions and 90 percent are in favor of such standards for protection of the environment.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of Mexicans say standards for working conditions should be included in trade pacts and three-quarters (76%) think environmental rules should be included.
  • Israelis are very enthusiastic with 91 percent favoring labor standards and 93 percent favoring environmental ones. 
  • In the formerly socialist economies of Eastern Europe, there is also strong support: overwhelming majorities of Poles favor labor (88%) and environmental (90%) standards, as do Ukrainians (85% labor, 88% environmental) and Armenians (79% labor, 82% environmental).


For complete findings and methodology, please visit www.worldpublicopinion.org and www.thechicagocouncil.org. For the Armenian version, visit www.acnis.am.


Founded in 1994 by Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs Raffi K. Hovannisian and supported by a global network of contributors, ACNIS serves as a link between innovative scholarship and the public policy challenges facing Armenia and the Armenian people in the post-Soviet world. It also aspires to be a catalyst for creative, strategic thinking and a wider understanding of the new global environment. In 2006, the Center focuses primarily on civic education, democratic development, conflict resolution, and applied research on critical domestic and foreign policy issues for the state and the nation.

For further information on the Center call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am ; or visit www.acnis.am .

Related Links

The Armenian version of the press release:

Armenian version

Full Report (PDF-format, 157 KBytes)

Questionnaire ( PDF-format, 68 KBytes)

Methodology/Research Partners ( PDF-format, 89 KBytes)

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