EU requests expert panel to convene in S. Korea’s dispute with EU over labor issues

Posted on : 2019-07-05 16:10 KST Modified on : 2019-07-05 16:10 KST
Primary issues concern ratification of ILO core conventions and freedom of association
Then South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon (left) and Catherine Ashton
Then South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon (left) and Catherine Ashton

The EU formally requested the South Korean government to convene a panel of experts over violations of the two sides’ Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The issue concerns the South Korean government’s failure to ratify four International Labour Organization (ILO) core conventions and to conform to the principle of freedom of association in the operation of its Trade Union Act. This marks the first time the EU has convened a panel of experts over labor condition violations in one of the 74 countries with which it has an FTA.

On July 4, the South Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) announced, “The European Commission formally requested to convene a panel of experts in accordance with the FTA’s chapter on Trade and Sustainable Development.”

“The reason is that it claims South Korea’s enforcement of FTA labor provisions – namely those concerning efforts to ratify ILO core conventions – to be inadequate,” the ministry explained. In December 2018, the EU began dispute resolution procedures by formally requesting intergovernmental discussions with South Korea following the latter’s failure to ratify four of eight ILO core conventions concerning freedom of association and forced labor.

With the convening of panel of experts representing the final stage of resolving disputes among parties to an FTA, the EU’s measure is intended to confirm the South Korean government’s violation of the agreement. The EU may pursue different sanctions if the South Korean government’s enforcement is judged to be insufficient.

“We can’t underestimate the significance of this being the first time in history that the EU has gone as far as to convene a panel of experts for one of the 74 countries with which it has FTAs,” said Lee Sung-wook, a law professor at Ewha Womans University, in a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh.

“If the panel of experts conclude that the South Korean government is in violation of the FTA, we stand to face not only the stigma of being the world’s first country violating [an FTA’s] labor conditions, but also de facto sanctions and regulations,” Lee noted.

By Jeon Jong-hwi, staff reporter

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