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Core Labor Standards and Competitiveness: Implications for Global Trade Policy


  • Martin, Will
  • Maskus, Keith E


One of the principal arguments for inclusion of core labor standards in the WTO is that weak labor standards provide an illegitimate boost to competitiveness and may result in a "race to the bottom" in labor standards worldwide. This paper shows that, if the violation of labor standards results from discrimination against particular workers in export industries, employment, output, and competitiveness will be reduced since employment is determined by the short side of the market. If the problems arise from abuse of market power by employers, competitiveness will be similarly reduced. Only if freedom of association and collective bargaining were intended to allow workers in some sectors to restrict output and drive up wages would the absence of these standards raise competitiveness. However, if product markets are competitive, it is likely that association rights would increase output and competitiveness by raising productivity. The competitiveness argument seems either to reflect analytical confusion or to represent a cover for protectionist interests. Copyright 2001 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin, Will & Maskus, Keith E, 2001. "Core Labor Standards and Competitiveness: Implications for Global Trade Policy," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 9(2), pages 317-328, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:reviec:v:9:y:2001:i:2:p:317-28

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