Social clause in trade liberalization : an agenda for the Philippines in APEC


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




The institutionalization of a social clause in an agreement which is binding among the signatories is difficult to support as it always entails having to touch issues like protectionism, and political, economic and cultural hegemony. The barrier of distrust between the "pro" and the "anti" social clause groups has become too deeply entrenched in the Asia Pacific to elicit a consensus that can be embodied in a ratified agreement. It is in this light that the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum seems to be a more practicable approach. This, thesis begins on the recognition that APEC exists and the Philippines is actively participating in it — the critical issue now is to make it an institution that will safeguard labor rights, not contribute further to their violation. Vital to the understanding of APEC is that it is more of a process rather than a solid institution. The APEC process is consensus-based and therefore functions well as a vessel for the harmonious and beneficial navigation by member economies of the treacherous waters of global trade. Because of the apparent voluntary character of member countries' commitments, some cause-oriented groups consider this process as an opportunity for interjecting social issues in APEC trade discussions by influencing civil society and thereby ultimately putting pressure on their respective governments to include these issues in the countries' individual commitments. This thesis is divided into four main chapters. The first chapter gives a historical analysis of the Philippines' journey toward trade liberalization in an increasingly globalizing world economy. The early stages of the country's trade liberalization program were plagued by a fundamental problem: the policies at the macro-economic level conflicted with the goal of liberalization, for they were hinged on an unsustainable level of foreign borrowing and on domestic politics of corruption and exploitation of human resource. The second chapter analyses the APEC objectives of free trade and the Philippines' trade liberalization commitments within that forum. It is argued that the country's bold and unilateral initiatives toward the fulfillment of the Bogor Declaration are unsustainable because of the government's misplaced fundamentals of competitiveness and lack of social support measures. The third chapter is a theoretical review of the linkage between the social clause and the liberal trading order with references to the North-South divide. It is argued that given a basically similar rationale — rejection of protectionism and of exploitation of labor — there could be an alternative path between the two opposing camps through which labor rights can be discussed and considered in a regional trade forum. The concluding chapter explores the different ways with which the labor movement can tap the human development and sustainable development aspects of the APEC forum. There is a need to develop and utilize a counter-consciousness in policy making which will inject a critical approach to the Philippines' ardent drive to attain global competitiveness. It is concluded that there is a possibility of creating a political space for non-government organizations (NGOs), private organizations (POs) and social movements to meaningfully participate in the APEC process and help in safeguarding social concerns, particularly labor rights.


Philippines -- Commercial policy; Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Organization); Labor laws and legislation, International; Free trade -- Philippines

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