GENEVA — Trade officials and lawyers working at the home of the World Trade Organization here said the tariff requests in the Section 301 petition filed Tuesday by the AFL-CIO would not be supported by global trade rules.

The petition charges that China unfairly pushes down costs by systematically violating workers’ rights, thus driving down wages. The result, the petition claims, is essentially an unfair export subsidy that the U.S. would be free to oppose.

“From a WTO perspective, this complaint is extremely problematic. Workers rights are not covered by World Trade Organization rules,” said Brendan McGivern, trade counsel at the Geneva offices of the U.S. trade practice of White & Case. “Moreover, the WTO prohibits unauthorized retaliatory tariffs.”

Similarly, Alejandro Jara, Chile’s WTO ambassador, said “there’s nothing in the WTO to justify such action.”

A WTO dispute panel in December 1999 ruled that unilateral action by the U.S. under Section 301 “against other?WTO members is — under U.S. law as it now stands — formally precluded.”

Part of the union’s reasoning in filing the complaint with the U.S. Trade Representative was that, while WTO rules say little on labor standards, U.S. law does. In some ways, the case could be seen as a test within the U.S. of whether domestic law trumps rules imposed by outside systems.

At the WTO’s 1999 summit in Seattle, former President Clinton called on the organization to make core labor standards part of every trade agreement and subject to sanctions. The proposal was strongly opposed by developing countries and contributed to the collapse of the meeting.

In December 1996, trade ministers agreed during a WTO summit in Singapore that the International Labor Organization “is the competent body to set and deal with these standards. We reject the use of labor standards for protectionist purposes.”

A European Union official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that while he considered job transfer an inevitable consequence of globalization, Section 301 is “quite a flexible tool” for an administration that chooses to wield it. Still, he asserted duties would be a violation of trading rules.

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