Free trade agreements

When negotiating free trade agreements between the EU and third countries, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs works to ensure a balance between good economic cooperation and the protection of our workers' rights and social standards.

Global trade in goods and services needs rules. In the EU, trade within the European Single Market is regulated so that barriers are practically eliminated between member states and yet conditions are also fair for workers. The EU's free trade agreements largely eliminate trade restrictions such as tariffs and varying product approval rules, also in relation to the rest of the world. A fair and sustainable trade policy ensures that protection standards, for example in the field of occupational health and safety and social security, are not compromised and it remains possible to freely adjust them in the future. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs advocates free trade agreements that bolster growth and employment and preserve European protection standards.

The European Commission negotiates trade agreements with trading partners within a mandate set by the group of ministers responsible for foreign trade, in which the member states together formulate the goals and limits of a possible agreement. Within the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is responsible for representing the German position vis-à-vis the Commission and for watching over the negotiations. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is involved in all issues concerning the protection of workers' rights and social standards. This concerns, for example, occupational health and safety measures and the protection of social services, but also the integration of international rules on worker protection. Once the negotiations have been concluded, the agreement is signed and ratified by the contracting parties in accordance with international law, i.e. incorporated into EU law. If the agreement also affects the competences of member states and is not exclusively part of EU trade policy, the parliaments of the member states also have a say.

In negotiations of all trade agreements, there is now a central focus on respecting important conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a special organisation of the United Nations, in each of which Germany was involved in establishing. Germany has implemented their provisions in the CETA agreement, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada. A particular success is that in the course of the negotiations Canada ratified the two of the ILO's eight core labour standards that had been lacking. The CETA has thus even had the effect of improving worker protection in Canada. Also in the course of the negotiations of its free trade agreement with the EU, Vietnam ratified more core labour standards, and it is likely to ratify the rest. Future trade agreements must be models for fair trade with fair working conditions and social conditions. Our trading partners should not fall below internationally applicable standards in production. The EU is currently negotiating some 17 trade agreements with partner countries or regions.