Mercosur Summit: Social-Labour Declaration Signed

14 December 1998

Officials from the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR, comprising Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and associate members Bolivia and Chile) met last week for their semi-annual summit. The meeting yielded agreements on two sectors, sugar and autos, which have been the source of much internal tension within the grouping. With respect to autos, the four full MERCOSUR members agreed that any new government subsidies for the auto industry must win approval from all four MERCOSUR members. Members also agreed to standardise technology levels among auto manufacturers in MERCOSUR countries. Argentine officials said the auto agreement would "create equality between the four countries and auto sectors, and give consumers greater choice."

MERCOSUR leaders also signed a so-called social-labour declaration establishing a Social Labour Commission comprised of government, labour groups and businesses, designed to be a forum for ensuring compliance with basic worker's rights. Labour groups staged protests at the summit, calling for an even greater commitment to workers' rights by demanding that MERCOSUR include social clauses in any free trade agreements negotiated. Labour activists acknowledged however that the social-labour declaration signed last week was at least a step in the right direction, as it calls for a dialogue on labour issues. Trade liberalisation, privatisation and regional financial difficulties have led to a decline in the labour movement in MERCOSUR countries, forcing labour activists to fight harder to ensure workers' rights are fully considered within the economic group.

"Argentina agrees to lower tariff on Brazil sugar by 10%;" "Mercosur signs auto policy framework deal," DOW JONES, December 10, 1998;"A movement in decline stands up to MERCOSUR summit," IPS, December 8, 1998.

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