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Press release17 December 2018BrusselsDirectorate-General for Trade2 min read

EU steps up engagement with Republic of Korea over labour commitments under trade agreement

The EU today requested formal consultations with the government of the Republic of Korea regarding the implementation of the sustainable development commitments under the EU-Korea trade agreement.

The aim is to open a dedicated channel of communication to find an amicable and mutually satisfactory solution to the EU’s concerns, specifically on labour rights.

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “The Republic of Korea is a valued partner for the EU and the trade agreement between us has produced large economic gains for both sides. But trade is about much more than the exchange of goods and services. It's about upholding standards and values. As part of the agreement both sides made commitments on workers’ rights, but so far the actions taken by the Korean government to implement this dimension have not been sufficient. We have a duty to uphold the spirit and letter of our agreements. We therefore look forward to the opportunity to discuss this issue further with our Korean counterparts.”

This is the first time the EU activates such an instrument in the framework of a trade agreement. The EU’s objective is a solution acceptable to both sides.

The EU has two key long-standing concerns with regard to Korea’s implementation of the commitments on trade and sustainable development:

  • the respect for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) fundamental principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
  • the outstanding ratification by Korea of four fundamental ILO Conventions: two concerning freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and two concerning forced labour.

Both issues are closely interrelated and require a number of labour reforms in Korea.

The EU-Republic of Korea trade agreement is now in its eighth year of implementation and the EU considers it is time that progress is made and therefore supports the efforts of President Moon to move forward to ratification and legislative changes in this field.


The European Commission closely monitors the implementation of trade commitments by EU partners and takes action, as necessary, to ensure that these commitments are respected. This also applies to commitments taken under the trade and sustainable development chapters in EU trade agreements.

Following the debate on trade and sustainable development chapters in trade agreements, the EU has recently reinforced its monitoring and implementation efforts, as outlined in its revamped approach set out in the 15-Point action plan on trade and sustainable development from February 2018.

The EU-Republic of Korea trade agreement, in place since 2011, was the first of the “new generation” comprehensive trade agreements that include a trade and sustainable development chapter, with a number of labour and environmental commitments based on multilateral standards and agreements.

For more information

Link to the request for consultations​​


Publication date
17 December 2018
Directorate-General for Trade
Country or region
  • South Korea
Trade topics
  • Negotiations and agreements
  • Sustainable development
  • Bilateral disputes