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Trajan Shipley
25th January 2021
Employment & Immigration External Relations & Trade

Panel of Experts: Korea is in breach of labour commitments under EU-Korea trade agreement

A panel of experts appointed by South Korea and the EU has established that Korea is in breach of labour commitments under the EU-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA). 

The EU-South Korea FTA is the first ‘new generation comprehensive trade agreement’, including a trade and sustainable development chapter with legally binding commitments on labour and environmental governance.

The dispute specifically concerned whether South Korea respected international core labour rights and standards, as well as whether it had made continued and sustained efforts toward the ratification of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention. The EU considered that the efforts taken by South Korea to respect these principles and ratify the ILO Convention since the entry into force of the agreement were insufficient.

While the panel confirmed that the FTA does not seek to harmonise labour standards in a uniform way, it stated that the ILO provisions are set to guarantee universal recognition of certain basic rights and create ‘common rules of the game’. Thus, it reasoned that the ILO principles are to be applied even if the ILO Convention had not been ratified, as they are legally binding upon South Korea vis-à-vis the FTA. The obligation to take continued and sustained efforts toward the ratification of the ILO Convention also arises from the conclusion of the trade agreement.

The Panel further found that several aspects of South Korea’s Trade Union Act are inconsistent with the principle of freedom of association, as recognised by the ILO. 

Read the full Panel Report here.


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