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Trade and labour standards: theory and new empirical evidence

  • Vivek Dehejia
  • Yiagadeesen Samy

Recent trade negotiations, both at the regional and multilateral level, have seen a resurgence of the issue of trade and labour standards. Labour interests in high-standards countries argue that low labour standards are an unfair source of comparative advantage, and that increasing imports from low-standards countries will have an adverse impact on wages and working conditions in high-standards countries, thus leading to a race to the bottom of standards. For low-standards countries, there is the fear that this is just a form of disguised protectionism and that the imposition of high labour standards upon them is equally unfair since it will erode their competitiveness, the latter being largely based on labour costs. Our objective in the present paper is to cast some light on the above debate from both a theoretical and empirical perspective. In particular, we first discuss some possible theoretical links between labour standards and comparative advantage through their effects on the terms of trade. We then investigate empirically the relationship between labour standards, comparative advantage and export performance. Overall, our empirical results suggest that caution should be exercised before drawing broad conclusions on the magnitude and direction of these effects.

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File URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0963819042000218692
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Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal The Journal of International Trade & Economic Development.

Volume (Year): 13 (2004)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 179-198

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Handle: RePEc:taf:jitecd:v:13:y:2004:i:2:p:179-198
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  1. Gabriel Rodriguez & Yiagadeesen Samy, 2003. "Analysing the effects of labour standards on US export performance. A time series approach with structural change," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 35(9), pages 1043-1051.
  2. Cigno, Alessandro & Rosati, Furio C. & Guarcello, Lorenzo, 2002. "Does Globalization Increase Child Labor?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 30(9), pages 1579-1589, September.
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