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WASHINGTON (AFP) - Despite its pledges to stay engaged with the world, the United States is gradually retreating from the UN-sponsored system of international law, having ratified only about 29 percent of existing multilateral agreements, according to a study.

The report, unveiled by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy -- a farmers' lobbying group -- on the eve of a foreign policy debate between President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger John Kerry, found "a steady decline" in the US government's support for multilateral accords, particularly those covering human and labor rights and security issues.

"This retreat from the UN system makes it much harder for the Bush administration to lead at the international level," Kristin Dawkins, a vice president of the institute, said in a brief statement.

"It has set a dangerous precedent that other countries could follow in areas such as arms trade and nuclear weapons," she added.

The widely-publicized Bush decisions to withdraw US support from the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, abandon the US-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and shun the International Criminal Court are just the latest manifestations of a generally skeptical attitude in Washington toward international law, the report pointed out.

Over the years, the United States has ratified only 14 out of 162 "active treaties" put together by the International Labour Organization and only two of the eight "core" UN conventions protecting the rights of workers, according to the study.

It has approved just three of 11 major environmental treaties, five out of the 12 human rights treaties promoted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and nearly half of the 23 treaties regulating intellectual property rights and related technologies.

As for the 10 treaties managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the US Senate has ratified only six of them, the report said.