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US Calls on Pakistan to Improve Labor Standards

The United States Deputy Counselor for Economic Affairs Susan McFee met with Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Textile Industry Abbas Khan Afridi last week to discuss implementing international labor standards in the country.

McFee stressed that Pakistan should devise a comprehensive strategy on labor standards immediately in order to meet International Labour Organization (ILO) standards and maintain its position as an apparel producer, according to Pakistan’s Ministry of Textile Industry.

In 2013, Pakistan’s exports to the U.S. grew a slight 1.6% to $3.7 billion, but were up a substantial 46 percent since 2003. The country’s five largest import categories were textile products ($1.3 billion), knit apparel ($954 million), woven apparel ($543 million), cotton and yarn and fabric ($114 million), and leather ($107 million), according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

And according to Afridi, the country’s new textile policy, to be finalized at the end of June, is expected to raise textile exports to the U.S. to $26 billion over the next five fiscal years.

As part of the forthcoming policy, Afridi noted, special emphasis will be given to implementing labor standards in the sector. Afridi said the ministry is already in consultation with the ministries of commerce and finance on a policy regarding labor standards and that the government will soon finalize a comprehensive labor policy in collaboration with the provincial governments.

McKee said the U.S. would support Pakistan’s efforts toward compliance with ILO standards and added that American companies prefer Pakistani textiles, the ministry noted, so settling on sound regulations would be positive for both parties.

Afridi also raised the issue of the Walt Disney Company’s recent decision to cease production in Pakistan over concerns for worker safety and said he hopes the company will reconsider amid the country’s progress on labor issues.