Towards a stronger EU approach on the trade-labour nexus? Pre- and post-ratification impacts, domestic labour reforms and social struggles in the context of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement

Kristoffer Marslev*, Cornelia Staritz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearch


The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) seems to deviate from the poor track record of ‘trade and sustainable development’ (TSD) 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 pre-ratification impact of the EVFTA on these reforms as well as potential post-ratification impacts through the civil society mechanisms (CSMs) that are an integral part of EU FTAs. 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 the lacunae by embedding FTAs and labor reform in a strategic-relational conceptualization of states. We argue that the pre-ratification success of the EVFTA was the outcome of specific conjunctures of so-cio-political forces in, and outside of, state institutions on both sides, and their mediation across trans-national space. 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 reform-ists to drive forward labor reforms within the party-state. However, these reforms still need to be im-plemented, for which sustained external pressure and the institutional mechanism of the EVFTA could be supportive. In the authoritarian-communist system in Vietnam, the establishment of the CSM, in-cluding a domestic advisory group (DAG) made up of independent civil society organizations, is unprec-edented, but it remains to be seen how it is implemented. The Vietnamese party-state is scrutinizing the text of the FTA and is reassessing the concessions it is willing to make, while the few independent labour NGOs are skeptical to apply for the DAG. The Commission seems to take the TSD chapter more seriously also post-ratification but has limited leverage in this phase. While this outcome supports pre-ratification conditionality in labor clauses, given the much stronger bargaining position that the EU has at this stage, it also stresses the importance of social struggles in the EU and particularly partner coun-tries to leverage such clauses.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date8 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2021
Event7th Regulating for Decent Work Conference: COVID-19 and the world of work: Towards a human-centred recovery - Virtual Conference, ILO, Geneve, Switzerland
Duration: 6 Jul 20219 Jul 2021 (Link to Conference)


Conference7th Regulating for Decent Work Conference
LocationVirtual Conference, ILO
Internet address


  • Labour clauses
  • Free trade agreements
  • EU
  • Vietnam
  • labour reform

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