Analysis: U.S.-Jordan FTA underbelly


WASHINGTON, June 30 (UPI) -- The U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement is not meeting its full potential and worker rights in Jordan continue to be violated as a result, say experts from both nations.

"Many of us use Jordan as a model and so we are now testing reality against our hopes," said Gene Sperling, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, at an event co-sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank earlier this week. "The reality is nowhere near the ideals of the agreement."


Signed Oct. 24, 2000, the groundbreaking pact stipulated that U.S. and Jordanian trade privileges depend upon mutual enforcement of domestic labor laws and observance of labor standards described in the International Labor Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principle and Rights at Work.

Since the agreement's implementation, the apparel manufacturing industry has boomed, with exports to the United States totalling $1.2 billion last year, or 20 times higher than 2001, according to John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress.

But the Jordanian government has not adhered to ILO standards, according to a new report titled, "Justice for All: The Struggle for Worker Rights in Jordan," published by the Solidarity Center earlier this year.


The report and a May 3 article by Steven Greenhouse and Michael Barbaro of The New York Times exposed how some workers in Jordanian industries labored under sweatshop conditions.

According to the published accounts, workers -- both Jordanian nationals and migrants -- complained of 20-hour days, abuse by supervisors, being jailed for protesting and not being paid for months, if ever.

Thea Lee, policy director and chief international economist at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, said many may consider the agreement to be a failure for these reasons.

She said exclusion from unions and the routine ignorance and lack of enforcement of labor laws, signifies the agreement's inherent weaknesses.

Lee added, however, that blame cannot be placed on only one party.

"Nobody has really done what they needed to do," she said. "The Bush administration has not enforced this agreement and the Jordanian government has not lived up to its end of the bargain either."

Mazen Ma'aytah, general secretary of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, agreed that working conditions are terrible and largely blamed the situation on the exclusion of workers' unions.

Just 10 percent of the workforce is permitted freedom of association, he said, which denies many workers the protection and care they deserve.


Ma'aytah said his federation and the Jordanian government recently agreed to reform labor legislation. The steps discussed include the creation of a Social Economic Council and of union worker committees for Jordanian and foreign laborers, as well as conducting more frequent factory inspections.

"One can say that the declared steps of action by the government are encouraging," Ma'aytah said. "We are hopeful that what results from these steps of action is a resolution of these issues."

Lee said improving the working conditions in Jordan is critical today since the Bush administration is in the process of negotiating free trade agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Oman and plans to establish a Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013.

The U.S.-Jordan trade agreement was the first ever negotiated with an Arab state, and seen as a potential example for the Middle East at large of the benefits of peace and economic reform.

"We need to make the Jordan agreement work if we're really going to learn from it," Lee said. "Now we have an opportunity to fix some of the problems."

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