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News article19 December 2019Directorate-General for Trade

EU-Korea dispute settlement over workers’ rights in Korea enters next stage

The EU and Korea completed today the procedure for selecting the members of the panel that will examine the ongoing dispute on workers’ rights in the Republic of Korea.

Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan commented: “The EU-Korea trade agreement has produced large economic gains for both sides. However, defending core values such as the environment or workers’ rights is just as important for the EU. Our Korean partners have yet to fulfil some of their core commitments on labour rights. We are open for dialogue but we also have to ensure that where we agreed on certain rules, those rules are enforced. That’s why we triggered this procedure and are expecting now its prompt results.”

This second phase of the dispute settlement procedure under the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter of the EU-Korea trade agreement opens after previous efforts – including formal government consultations in January 2019 – failed to provide a satisfactory solution.

In the EU-Korea trade agreement, both sides committed to respect international labour rights standards. This includes the ratification and effective implementation of fundamental International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, as well as setting domestic legal guarantees on the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

The EU considers that, eight years into the entry into force of the agreement, the actions taken by Korea to implement these provisions remain insufficient.

In October this year, the government of Korea submitted a proposal in the National Assembly for the ratification of three out of four outstanding fundamental ILO Conventions and of the bills for necessary labour reforms. However, the National Assembly has not taken any formal steps to discuss or vote on these bills. The EU continues to encourage the authorities of Korea to find the necessary domestic consensus to adapt Korean standards to the required international norms.

Since the outcome of these efforts by the government of Korea remains uncertain, the EU found it appropriate to request a panel of experts to examine the matters that have not been satisfactory addressed through government consultations.


The EU has been stepping up its efforts to ensure that its trading partners fulfil their trade and sustainable development commitments. This objective was also set out in the 15-Point TSD Action Plan of February 2018.

The EU-Korea trade agreement is the EU’s first ‘new generation’ comprehensive trade agreement that includes a trade and sustainable development chapter, with a number of labour and environmental commitments based on multilateral standards and agreements.

After finding that the Republic of Korea had not complied with its labour rights-related commitments under the trade agreement, the EU requested formal consultations with the government of the Republic of Korea in December 2018. After formal consultations did not lead to the desired outcome, in July 2019 the EU requested to set up a panel of independent experts.

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Publication date
19 December 2019
Directorate-General for Trade
Country or region
South Korea
Trade topics
Dispute settlementSustainable development
Dispute settlement
Bilateral disputes