Resurgence of the Social Clause?: A critical analysis of labor provisions in RTAs in the Asia-Pacific region

Author Name NAKAGAWA Junji (Faculty Fellow, RIETI)
Creation Date/NO. January 2024 24-E-009
Research Project Restructuring the international trade law system based on sustainability
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The discussion on the social clause, which repeatedly took place under the GATT/WTO, was finally settled in 1996 by the WTO Singapore Ministerial Declaration, which consigned the ILO to deal with core labor standards. The 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up (the Declaration) commissioned ILO members to respect, promote, and realize the four core labor rights and forbade the use of trade sanctions to enforce them. However, an increasing number of regional trade agreements (RTAs) came to refer to the Declaration and obliged parties to secure core labor rights. This phenomenon is referred to as the resurgence of the social clause. This study analyzes this treaty practice in the Asia-Pacific region, focusing on the domestic labor law reforms of Korea, Vietnam, and Japan under their RTAs with the US and EU. Korea and Vietnam carried out their labor law reform by implementing their treaty obligations to respect, promote, and realize freedom of association under the Declaration, which was incorporated into their RTAs with the US and EU. Japan voluntarily conducted its labor law reform and ratified ILO Convention No.105; however, the reference to the core ILO Conventions under the Japan-EU EPA put political pressure on carrying out the reform. Now that these countries have ratified the core ILO Conventions, the ILO will monitor their implementation, but RTAs will also monitor their implementation in parallel with the ILO.