International labour standards

Preparation for the launch of report on "Promoting and enforcing compliance of labour provisions in trade agreements"

On 27 April 2022, in Ha Long, Viet Nam, the International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA ICD), in collaboration with Trade for Decent Work project, organized a Free Trade Agreement Working Group seminar in preparation for the launch of a study report on “Promoting and enforcing compliance of labour provisions in trade agreements”.

News | Hanoi, Viet Nam | 08 December 2022
HANOI, Viet Nam (ILO News) - A seminar in preparation for the launch of a report on Promoting and enforcing compliance of labour provisions in trade agreements was organized in hybrid mode, with the onsite attendance of the members of the Vietnam FTA Working Group, and the online attendance by the ILO Research Department from Geneva.

Onsite participants of the Seminar. © ILO
Online participants of the Seminar. © ILO
Mr Nguyen Manh Cuong, the Director-General of the MoLISA ICD at that time, in his opening speech, noted that Viet Nam is a signatory to a number of free trade agreements with non-traditional terms and commitments. In referring to the labour commitment in those agreements, he acknowledged that the various stakeholders in Viet Nam had little experience or knowledge of how these provisions were implemented in practice. Given this, all the members of the FTA Working Group, who had eagerly waited for this seminar, appreciate greatly the work of the ILO team of experts in facilitating a knowledge sharing on the experience and practices of key countries. Mr Cuong felt that the comparative experience would provide most valuable lessons for effectively implementing the labour provisions in the various free trade agreements that Viet Nam has adopted.

Ms Marva Corley-Coulibaly, Ms Gaia Grasselli, and Ms Ira Postolachi from the ILO Research Department provided a presentation on their report “Promoting and enforcing compliance of labour provisions in trade agreements”. The team’s paper, utilizing in-depth interviews with social partners and government officials, desk research, and the ILO Labour Provisions in Trade Agreements Hub, focused on three landmark disputes arising from the labour provisions in the trade agreements between the US and Guatemala (2008-17), the EU and the Republic of Korea (2018-21), and Canada and Colombia (2016 - on-going).

In their analysis of the three cases, examining the modality of “dispute resolution” provided by each of the three different free trade agreements, and the approaches and practices of the various stakeholders in activating and implementing the labour commitment provisions of these agreements, the ILO experts drew five lessons for sharing with the Vietnamese stakeholders.

The first lesson was that the labour commitment provisions provided important and effective space for social dialogue, allowing the interested parties and multiple stakeholders opportunities to engage in raising concerns, and to draw attention to various emerging difficulties. This allows the various responsible parties to address the problems, resolving the conflicts, before they are escalated. The second take-away was the necessity and the value of having a clear and time-bound procedure, which enhances the effectiveness of monitoring and dispute settlement efforts. The third lesson that could be drawn from the detailed examination of the three cases was that the respective trade partners had a shared responsibility to promote and ensure compliance with labour commitments. It was the strength of the shared adherence to the labour commitments that made the employment of the dispute resolution procedures work towards mutual benefit. The fourth lesson was the importance of development cooperation activities in support of capacity building for the various stakeholders, including the labour administration. Finally, the study highlighted the importance of the role of the ILO in strengthening coherence and fostering legitimacy of implementing labour commitments in free trade agreements.
Several issues were raised for discussion following the ILO presentation. Mr Nguyen Van Binh, the Director-General of the MoLISA Legal Affairs Department, in a question regarding the first lesson (that is, the importance of social dialogue), asked whether this referred to dialogue between the different parties (that is, between the signatory “parties” to the agreement or among the various actors within one party (that is, among the different interested parties in the specific nation that is party to an agreement). He mentioned that the “adherence to the labour commitment” may involve the articulation of a “political will”, as such an “adherence” may be an expression of a high-level involvement, which could be a “political” issue that may not be effectively addressed by technical cooperation activities. Mr Yoon Youngmo, ILO Senior Specialist in Social Dialogues and Industrial Relation, pointed to the difference between the approach of EU and US in “identifying” the issues that come into the purview of the dispute resolution mechanisms established in the trade agreements. Mr Nguyen Manh Cuong drew attention to the different approaches that could be found in the CPTPP and the EV-FTA. Both agreements refer the ILO Declaration of 1998. However, the CPTPP does not specify the ratification of the 8 ILO fundamental Conventions by the signatories, while the EV-FTA calls on the parties to make continued efforts towards ratification of these Conventions.

The study report prepared by the ILO Research Department was produced in response to a request of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MoLISA) as the “focal point” of the labour provisions in the various trade agreements in compiling a technical information package for internal government readiness preparation. The report will be made available for broader sharing and circulation in 2023 upon the finalization of a publication edition.