EU Law Live

The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) dispute on labour rights between the European Union (EU) and Republic of Korea (Korea) is the first time that the EU has initiated dispute settlement procedures under a trade agreement to challenge violations of a third country’s Trade & Sustainable Development (TSD) obligations.

Autoren: Yves Melin Jin Woo Kim

In this dispute, the EU won several claims against Korea’s Trade Union Act. However, the FTA panel found that Korea did not fail to make ‘continued and sustained efforts’ towards the ratification of four fundamental International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions. As a next step, the EU could face difficulties in successfully implementing the FTA panel ruling, if Korea refuses to do so or delays the implementation. This is because, in this FTA as in all others, the EU relied on voluntary cooperation from Korea for the implementation of panel recommendations concerning the violation of TSD obligations.

Background

After raising its concerns that Korea failed to comply with its commitments on labour rights under the TSD Chapter (Chapter 13) of the EU – Korea FTA, the EU requested consultations in December 2018. As the consultations did not lead to a resolution of the dispute, the EU requested the establishment of a panel of independent experts in July 2019. In essence, the EU submitted two claims:

(i) Korea’s measures (four specific provisions of Korea’s Trade Union Act) are inconsistent with the first sentence of Article 13.4.3, in particular, the principle of freedom of association; and

(ii) Korea’s efforts towards ratifying four fundamental ILO Conventions are inadequate and, thus, Korea acted inconsistently with the last sentence of Article 13.4.3.

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