Towards a stronger EU approach on the trade-labor nexus? The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, social struggles and labor reforms in Vietnam

Kristoffer Marslev*, Cornelia Staritz

*Corresponding author

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) deviates from the poor track record of ‘trade and sustainable development’ chapters in EU FTAs. Ahead of ratification, Vietnam embarked upon pathbreaking reforms, culminating in a new labor code and accession to outstanding ILO core conventions. This article assesses the role of the EVFTA in these reforms. Building on literatures on the trade-labor nexus and externalization of EU governance, we call for a more comprehensive analysis of power dynamics in partner countries and address this lacunae by embedding FTAs and labor reforms in a strategic-relational conceptualization of states. We argue that the ‘success’ of the EVFTA was the outcome of specific conjunctures of social forces in, and outside of, state institutions in the EU and Vietnam, and their mediation at the transnational level. Amid free trade skepticism in the EU, particular members of the Parliament and the Council wielded their veto powers to negotiate with Vietnam and pull the Commission into a stronger position. In Vietnam, the external pressure resonated with internal struggles and empowered reformists to drive forward labor reforms. Implementation, however, remains uncertain; and, context-dependent as it was, the EVFTA pre-ratification impact does not easily lend itself to replication in other FTAs.

TidsskriftReview of International Political Economy
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)1125-1150
Antal sider26
StatusUdgivet - 2023


  • free trade agreements
  • trade-labor nexus
  • labor reforms
  • state power
  • social struggles
  • EU
  • Vietnam

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