Promoting trade for sustainable development

What to expect from the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment?

A virtual event organised by MEP Reinhard Bütikofer entitled “What to expect from the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI)?” brought together some 100 participants. The CAI seeks to facilitate reciprocal market access.

News | 07 December 2020
During a virtual event organised by MEP Reinhard Bütikofer entitled “What to expect from the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI)?”, Tim De Meyer, Senior Adviser on Standards Policy at the ILO, discussed the International Labour Standards China has ratified so far, and the prospects of the country eventually ratifying and applying the ILO fundamental Conventions in the context of promoting trade for sustainable development.

China has ratified four out of eight fundamental Conventions. These four Conventions cover the elimination of child labour and the abolition of discrimination at work. The ILO’s longstanding cooperation with China is fostering a reasonable prospect for the ratification of the forced labour Conventions, i.e. the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 and the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105).

The ratification by China of the fundamental Conventions on Freedom of Association and protection of the right to organise, and the Right to organise and Collective Bargaining seems unlikely in the short term, due to compatibility issues with China’s political system.

The country has ratified 26 ILO Conventions in total. China is yet to ratify the ILO labour inspection Conventions (the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) and the Labour Inspection Convention (Agriculture), 1969 (No. 129). Labour inspection services play a critical role in thwarting unfair competition and levelling the playing field for sustainable enterprises. Of the 20 technical Conventions that China has ratified, only seven are up-to-date. Since 2007, there has been only one ratification: the Maritime Labour Convention (2006) in 2015.

Preparations to ratify the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention are advanced. “The ratification of this Convention would represent a significant reassurance of China’s commitment to multilateralism,” added Mr De Meyer.

Considering the EU ambition to create a level-playing field for companies and repeated ILO calls for the universal ratification of the fundamental Conventions, it is not unreasonable for the EU to insist on the ratification of the fundamental Conventions in trade negotiations, since these Conventions are universally ratified by all EU member States.

“However, vast differences in political and legal culture, in administrative systems and in the nature of the China’s development challenges ahead rule out quick fixes for a level-playing field in practice between the EU and China,” concluded Mr De Meyer.

On 30 December, the EU and China concluded in principle the negotiations for a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.