Andrew James Samet - 1 | 2 As the Administration supports legislation to expand trade benefits to the Andean nations, it might keep in mind that in order to certify many countries as eligible under the worker rights and child labor provisions contained in last year's Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa trade laws (provisions which will no doubt be included in the Andean legislation), the Department of Labor was called upon to offer assistance to many countries in those regions.

And even as relations with China have become more strained, let's remember that part of the PNTR legislation asks the Department of Labor to set up a technical cooperation program with China to address labor issues.The proposed budget cuts almost certainly wipe out the increases to station more Department of Labor personnel in our embassies abroad, both to oversee the technical assistance programs that are currently underway, and also, importantly, to improve the Department of Labor's ability to respond to the demands of Congress for better information on foreign labor developments, particularly in the context of various trade negotiations.

And lest anyone think that these programs were all about supporting 'inefficient' labor ministries or 'anti-trade' trade unions (such as the ones in Poland that brought down Soviet communism, or in South Africa that hastened the demise of apartheid, or in Serbia that gave an important push to oust Milosevic), it is noteworthy that for many Department of Labor programs, business has been the lead partner. That would include the garment associations in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Haiti, the soccer ball and carpet industries in Pakistan, and the coffee and construction industries in Central American countries, to name a few.

The proposed budget also cuts most of the funds for international child labor programs, which is especially dispiriting at a time when global momentum exists in the struggle to end abusive child labor. A year ago, the Clinton Administration made commitments to three countries, El Salvador (recently devastated by earthquakes), Nepal (which has received much press lately for the horror of child prostitution), and Tanzania (which has shown a steady commitment to improve school enrollment). These three governments said they have the will to eliminate child labor, and then Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman said the U.S. is committed to help them get the job done.

What do we say now?

It's a good thing that despite these cuts, the Administration still announced that the Department of Labor's international programs are 'vital.' What would have happened if the programs were merely 'important?'

Andrew James Samet is with the law firm of Sandler, Travis and Rosenberg, P.A. He served as Deputy Under Secretary of Labor for International Affairs in the Clinton Administration, and headed the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.