On January 25, 2021, the EU-Korea Panel of Experts found that Korea had failed to uphold its labor obligations to “respect, promote, and realise” the right to freedom of association and to take concrete steps to ratify all eight fundamental conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO). In the final report, the Panel recommended Korea to bring its domestic laws “into conformity with the principles concerning freedom of association” but recognized that Korea had “ma[de] continued and sustained efforts towards ratification of the core ILO Conventions.”
This case marked the EU’s first victory in enforcing labor obligations under the trade and sustainable development (TSD) chapter of the EU’s “new generation” of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The EU adopts the TSD provisions as tools to improve and reinforce the labor and environmental standards of its trading partners – a key policy objective the EU has recently adopted. Within the last two years, the EU has increased enforcement of TSD obligations in its trade agreements, requesting 3 other TSD consultations, and successfully securing a win against Ukraine for the violation of the TSD environmental obligations under the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Although labor and environmental provisions are not unique to the EU’s “new generation” FTAs, EU-style TSD provisions impose additional and higher obligations, beyond those commonly provided for in the labor and environmental provisions of other model FTAs. The following example compares the labor provisions of the EU-Korea FTA and the Korea-US (KORUS) FTA to demonstrate the differences in labor standards between these two agreements.