Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Work conditions on China agenda for US labor chief

AFP , BEIJING

US Labor Secretary Elaine Chao will arrive in China today for talks aimed at ensuring conditions for the massive and low-priced Chi-nese workforce "keep pace with" the country's economic development, her department said.

Chao's four-day visit comes at a time of lingering anxiety in the US that cheap Chinese labor, helped by a 10-year-old currency peg, is pushing a growing number of Americans out of jobs.

"As China undergoes its explosive economic growth, we are committed to working with China to help improve the working conditions of its workers to keep pace with its overall economic development," Chao said in a statement.

Chao's visit -- the first official trip by a US labor secretary in 16 years -- coincides with a tour by US Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, highlighting the importance of China for the US economy.

Unfair labor practices are cited by some Americans as one of the reasons why China had a US$124 billion trade surplus with the US last year.

With a broad measure of the US trade deficit exploding to a record US$144.9 billion in the first quarter of this year, China's surplus with the US is likely to grow even bigger this year.

"We are going to continue to look American workers in the eye, all across this country, and tell them we are going to be tough when it comes to enforcing our trade laws and maintaining a level playing field with the rest of the world," Evans said before departing Washington.

Evans was in Xian yesterday, where he was scheduled to meet the provincial governor and the head of the provincial Communist Party organization, according to a diplomat.

The visits of Evans and Chao come as the US presidential election campaign is heating up, with the economic ties with China as a possible top issue. US trade unions have accused Beijing of abusing workers rights in China in an effort to keep exports at artificially low prices.

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