The Diffusion of Fundamental Rights in the Atlantic Basin

Date - 26 / 04 / 2018

The Diffusion of Fundamental Rights in the Atlantic Basin

The Diffusion of Fundamental Rights in the Atlantic Basin
through EU Trade Policy

(Kimberly A. Nolan García – International Studies Division, CIDE)

Although trade-based labor clauses have become a standard feature of US trade policy since 1994, and have been included in EU accords since at least 2000, the inclusion of labor guarantees in trade has become increasingly common since 2008.1 In 2015, 76 trade accords included labor clauses, which means that given the growth of regional trade accords and spread of bilateral accords themselves in the same time frame, 80% of trade accords in force in the world now include some form of labor provision (ILO 2016, pp 23).

The European Union remains a leader in this regard. EU policies since 2006 –to be addressed in this chapter—combined with unilateral provisions targeted to less-developed states, including the Generalized System of Preferences program (GSP), GSP+, and Everything but Arms arrangements currently extend labor rights obligations to 92 states through EU trade policy (ILO 2016, pp 24). The EU model is thus worth exploring just in terms of the spread of is reach through bilateral and LDC programs, and the potential then for the expansion of labor rights guarantees globally through EU trade policy.

Trade accords between the EU and Latin American countries are extensive, given that most LAS states continue to carry the bulk of their trade in North America, and in particular with the United States. The EU has full agreements with Caribbean states under the Cariforum Economic Partnership Agreement (since 2000) and Central American countries under the EU-CA Free Trade Association (2013). The EU also has bilateral agreements with four other Latin American states, Mexico, Chile, and Peru and Colombia.2

The EU was negotiating an accord with Mercosur (excluding Venezuela) until 2004, as part of a bi-regional Association Agreement that includes pillars on political cooperation.
While talks resumed in 2010, they have not advanced over differences on agricultural sector policy, even though the Mercosur countries remain the EU’s major trading partners in the Latin American region (EPRS, 2014). The extension of EU trade to the Latin American region in recent years, and the attachment of labor and human rights guarantees to those accords through EU policy then represents the expansion of new forms of monitoring and enforcement of such guarantees into the region.

However, the EU model is interesting for additional reasons. First, the EU conception of labor rights is the most expansive of all of the competing models, as the European Commission sets as equal international instruments of European and International human rights law as equal to international labor rights standards, which is an approach that contrasts to the limited focus on labor standards taken by the US in particular.3 As the EU continues to promote labor rights guarantees through trade, the result is more accurately the extension of human rights norms, promotion and protection as well.

Second, as major trading states begin the process of reopening and revisiting older trade agreements in order to update them to meet the requirements of modern trade in services, e-commerce and so on, non-traditional areas of trade like social standards have not been left behind. Even as the EU model evolves as thinking on how to best link labor guarantees to trade changes, the European Commission has developed policy that seeks to retrofit older accords with newer social standards. In the process of modernization of previously signed accords, labor rights and human rights guarantees are among the areas that must now be included to the updated accords, to keep them consistent with EU policy today.

This chapter considers the EU model for linking trade based labor rights guarantees to trade policy in the context of the current policy to modernize EU trade, and with this, retrofit older accords with new labor clauses. It describes first how social guarantees like human rights language was include in EU trade policy, and how the emphasis on human rights protections gradually opened to include labor rights protections, and eventually, dedicated chapters on sustainable development. It then compares the institutions of the “new generation” labor clauses to show how specific mechanisms of the labor clauses serve to promote and protect labor standards among EU trade partners, and therefore contribute to the enforcement of international labor standards globally. The last section discusses how the modernisation of older accords reinforces EU commitment to social guarantees through trade policy, with reference to the EU-Chile and EU-Mexico agreements.

1 Trade-related labour provisions, or labour clauses, refer to any standard introduced into a trade agreement to address labour standards, labour relations, or working conditions, then mechanisms for mechanisms for monitoring or promoting their compliance, or frameworks for cooperation on these labour matters. This definition draws on that adopted by the International Labour Organisation (2016, pp 14).

2, accessed January 23, 2018. Ecuador decided to join the Colombia and Peru agreement after dropping out of negotiations for an EU-Andean FTA, negotiations for Ecuador’s inclusion were completed in 2014 (EPRS, 2014).

3 The US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Canada all include labour rights guarantees in their trade policies, see Lazo Grandi, 2009.

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