The Egyptian Minister of Labour Force and Immigration, Ms. Aisha Abdel-Hadi, will be opening a meeting organized by UN-ESCWA (the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) and the Arab Labour Organization (ALO) on 5-6 September 2007 at the Cairo Pyramisa Hotel.
The two-day Regional Workshop on Movement of Natural Persons and its Implications on Development in the Arab States, which will start at 10:00 am on Wednesday 5 September, is intended to present the trends and developments in the negotiations for the liberalization of services according to “mode four” of the GATS agreement. The meeting will address the scope, coverage and implications of commitments made under “mode four” of the agreement, its relation to the ongoing labour migration and respective implications on Arab labour markets and economies. It will have a closer look at the commitments made by the Arab States and will try to identify the expected impact by means of presenting case studies from Arab countries. The meeting is an opportunity to create dialogue on “mode four” among the various stakeholders responsible for setting national labour, trade and economic policies, as well as representatives of professional, labour and private sector organizations.
Participants in the meeting will be representatives and government officials of Arab Ministries of Finance, Trade and Labour in addition representatives from customs authorities, professional syndicates and labour and employers organizations in the Arab countries as well as representatives from the League of Arab States, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Other representatives from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Migration Organization will be among the participants.
The meeting’s opening session will witness statements by Minister Abdel-Hadi, Mr. Bader Al-Dafa, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UN-ESCWA and Mr. Ahmad Lokman, Director of the Arab Labour Organization.
Labour Movement: Obstacles and Hardships
The International temporary movement of labour continues to face several obstacles. These can be exemplified by hardships faced by companies and individuals alike in meeting the conditions posed on visa requirements, residency, economic needs test, recognition of skills, competency evaluation, wage parity, social security measures as well as meeting adopted labour and professional standards and regulations on the national level.
Trade in services has contributed by large to the emergence of new forms of cross border investments and exchange of highly skilled labour. In this context, many countries have assumed regulatory measures to facilitate and organize the importation of skills for a short period of time, allowing specifically the importation of highly skilled labour, professional, managers and business visitors. Others also incorporated inter-corporate transferees of international companies operating within their borders. As such, several countries resorted to unilateral, bilateral and even regional arrangements to organize the movement of highly skilled manpower to their countries.
At the international level, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) allows member states in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to negotiate market access of labour within a multilateral framework, which recognizes the principles of the Most Favored Nations and National Treatment. The Agreement however allows member countries to come forward with their schedules of commitments on a sectoral basis and according to four modes of supply of the service in question. Mode Four of the agreement relates to the supply of service by means of the movement of natural persons, allowing for the temporary admission of foreign nationals or foreign permanent residents as service providers to a member’s territory.
Within this context, it is imperative that Arab states be kept informed on the latest developments on the ongoing negotiations regarding the movement of natural persons of the agreement (mode four) and be fully aware of the respective consequences of the different commitments assumed. The consequences arising from the commitments made might have varied implications on Arab economies and societies pending on the policy mix each country will implement in addressing liberalization, infrastructure suitability, business and investment environment, social, labour and economic policies, as well as policies addressing security concerns. As such, it becomes imperative to reach a national consensus concerning the commitments made among the various national stakeholders with the objective of maximizing benefits and minimizing costs.