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Committee: World Trade Organization

Topic: Environment-related Trade Policies and Incorporating Labor Right Issue into WTOs
Agenda
Country: Japan
Name of Submitter: Le Nguyen Huong Tra
Becoming a member of WTO, Japan had experienced a new era of development and evidences
showed that Japan has become much stronger in its force and stance in global scale. During its
process of developing and now has been developed, Japan still tries to enhance the economic
inner force and trade activities. Behind economic activities in the market lies a corresponding
material cycle between people and nature. As part of economic activity, trade and labor affects
the worlds material cycle in various ways through the movement of resources and energy.
Environment and trade policies influence each other. The issue of environment and trade can be
seen as that of how to minimize the negative effects of trade on the environment while
maximizing the beneficial effects of trade. At the same time, the issue is how to reconcile
conflicting requirements arising from environmental and trade policies respectively. Also, the
problem of labor rights affects strongly on the economic as it represents the power of labor,
which leads the market force and the productivity. The guiding principle in this process should
be the realization of "sustainable development" that was agreed upon at the UNCED.
It goes without saying that coping effectively with global environmental problems, which are
threatening the very basis of human existence, is one of the top priorities for Japan no less than
for other countries. Recognizing this, Japan agreed at UNCED to make every effort to build a
society where environmental protection and economic activities exist in harmony. In Agenda 21
adopted at the UNCED, the importance of promoting sustainable development through trade is
emphasized. In the preamble of the Agreement Establishing the WTO, "allowing for optimal use
of the worlds resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development" is
mentioned and trade can be seen as a means to achieve it. It follows therefore that even if trade
should be restricted in certain circumstances in order to achieve sustainable development, it
should not be seen as contradicting the multilateral free trading system. In future, trade should
aim at the optimal, not full, use of the worlds resources in order to ensure sustainable
development.
Since the mid-1990s, Japanese companies have met their labor needs by employing more
temporary staff and contract workers (i.e., non-permanent employees). This has become an
important feature of the Japanese labor market. Significant changes to the Workers Dispatch Law
(which regulates the use of temporary staff) were implemented in 2015. The Japanese labor
system is under pressure, as the job market lacks mobility and elasticity. The traditional model
with its peculiarities of lifelong employment, job security until retirement (for those employed as
permanent workers) and seniority-based pay and promotions has become inefficient,
inequitable and controversial. In addition, the number of irregular workers and temporary staff
has dramatically increased in the last 30 years and become a major issue. Employment law is
gradually being reformed, but the process is slow and the legal framework remains rigid. Some
of the topics which have been on the backburner for some time include the white-collar overtime
pay exemption for workers earning a minimum annual salary and relaxing the rules governing
dismissals.
One of the aims of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is to improve Japans stability,
mobility and productivity. In order to do so, Japan should strengthen its assistance to countries
with economies in transition so that those countries can enhance their capacities to deal
effectively with their environmental and labor right problems and play a leadership role in
promoting multilateral cooperation to cope with problems. There is a fear that rapid economic
development will lead to a further worsening of environmental problems and Japanese
companies are playing a large role in the deepening of structural mutual dependency in the
region. Taking these factors into account, Japan, through cooperation between the government
and private sector, needs to make a positive contribution to the protection of the environment of
this region and to take care not to give negative effects to the environment in its economic
cooperation and development investments with those countries. As it is also of utmost
importance that developing countries themselves be able to assess the state of their environment
as accurately as possible, Japan should also extend assistance to them in terms of development of
environmental data and monitoring in East Asia, dissemination of information, environmental
education. Efforts should be further strengthened in this respect. Moreover, a number of more
labor practical barriers must be overcome as well. While foreign workers will be clustered into
labor-scarce industries in theory, negotiations with partner countries could turn out differently in
practice. Japan can also be a forbidding place for workers from abroad, particularly those in
fields such as nursing who must acquire advanced, technical Japanese. Guidelines to help
equalize pay between full-time and temporary workers performing the same job will be set
within the year. Changes to laws governing labor contracts and temporary workers will be
worked on as well. This will let the government lead high-level discussions between
representatives of management and labor on such matters.