ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

268th Session
Geneva, March 1997
Working Party on the Social Dimensions of the Liberalization of International Trade WP/WP/SDL


Continuation of discussions
concerning the programme of work
and mandate of the Working Party

a) Interim report on country studies

1. The Working Party suggested that the Office undertake a series of case-studies to explore the experience of a number of countries in regard to the impact of globalization and trade liberalization on the attainment of ILO social objectives. The studies would in particular "examine how and to what extent member countries were able to translate the benefits of economic development resulting from trade liberalization into parallel progress in social development, and the difficulties encountered in this respect".(1) This document reports on progress to date in launching the studies.

2. As the processes of globalization and trade liberalization are relevant to all types of economies, the case-studies will be carried out on a sample of ten to 12 countries at all levels of development. Following consultations with the ILO units concerned at headquarters and in the field, a number of criteria were set to guide the selection of countries. These were:

  1. substantial and/or growing integration in the world economy and the introduction of
    significant measures towards trade liberalization since 1980;
  2. availability of a reasonably good set of relevant data;
  3. availability of relevant studies on the country concerned, especially past and ongoing work by the ILO;
  4. balanced distribution across major regions of the world;
  5. willingness of the country to participate in the exercise.

3. In November 1996, the Director-General wrote to the Ministers of Labour of a number of member States to inquire about their interest. By the beginning of February 1997 six of them had confirmed their participation: Chile, Jamaica, Jordan, the Republic of Korea, Poland and Switzerland. These countries were subsequently requested to nominate focal points within the Government with whom the ILO could discuss the details of the terms of reference for their country study and material arrangements. A number of other countries have also expressed their interest informally, requesting additional information about the purposes of the exercise and the means of its implementation. This information has been furnished to all the countries concerned.

4. As noted in the interim report submitted to the Working Party in November 1996,(2) the Director-General hopes that the administrative costs of the studies can be absorbed to the extent possible by existing programmes; as regards documentation and analysis, he hopes to be able to count on contributions from the countries themselves and the multidisciplinary teams, and especially from interested donors and other competent intergovernmental organizations.

5. The main output of the exercise will consist in a series of ten to 12 country studies as well as a synthesis report to be submitted to the Governing Body for discussion. The studies will be carried out within a common framework to ensure focus and facilitate the preparation of the synthesis. They will attempt to identify the impact, if any, of globalization and trade liberalization on selected social dimensions such as employment, wages and income distribution, and assess the role of institutions -- particularly labour market institutions -- and national policy in influencing the outcomes. Other outputs of an intermediate or complementary nature may also be produced in the course of the exercise, for example an annotated bibliography of the literature on the social dimensions of globalization and trade liberalization, a survey of the relevant literature, and a cross-country analysis of statistical relationships between trade liberalization and selected social dimensions at the global level. In accordance with established ILO practice, any of the research outputs that meets adequate standards of quality may, in the first instance, be issued as a working paper with restricted circulation. After the discussion of the findings by the Governing Body, some or all of the studies may be revised and proposed for publication, either individually or collectively in a volume. Since a major aim of the studies is to promote dialogue on the social effects of globalization and trade liberalization and to disseminate successful experiences, participating countries might be urged to organize national tripartite workshops to discuss the findings of individual studies. An international workshop may also be organized by the ILO on completion of the exercise, should funds for this be available.

6. It may be helpful to note that, while distinct from them, the country studies would complement three other initiatives that are either under way or are envisaged in the context of the work of the Governing Body and the Working Party. The first is the series of seven country employment policy reviews, undertaken within the framework of the UN ACC Task Force on Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods. The reviews examine employment and living conditions and formulate a coherent strategy for employment, including macroeconomic, sectoral, trade, labour market and education and training policies. The scope of these reviews is thus different from that of the country studies, which are concerned with the social implications of globalization and trade liberalization. The countries covered by the two exercises also differ, except for Chile, which is common to both. This is mainly because the countries covered by the Task Force exercise did not in general meet the selection criteria for the country studies. The second initiative concerns the research study on the positive economic effects of implementing core labour standards in developing countries, for which provision has been made in the Programme and Budget proposals for 1998-99. The third is a proposal that has been made in the context of the debate on strengthening the ILO's supervisory machinery for in-depth country policy reviews that might examine countries' observance of core standards, among other issues.(3) In the light of the second and third of these initiatives, and in order to avoid overlap, the country studies would not address the issue of the links between trade liberalization and international labour standards as such.

Geneva, 18 February 1997.

1 GB.262/WP/WP/SDL/Inf.1, para. 2.

2 GB.267/WP/WP/SDL/1/4.

3 Chairperson's report to the Governing Body, November 1996. See Minutes of the 267th Session, p. III/7.

Updated by VC. Approved by NdW. Last update: 26 January 2000.