The Great Trade-Off

Inside Story, 2018

5 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2019

See all articles by Joo-Cheong Tham

Joo-Cheong Tham

University of Melbourne

K. D. Ewing

King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law

Date Written: November 23, 2018


Can trade agreements protect labour standards? For their proponents, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Take the relevant chapter in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, commonly referred to as the TPP, which the Australian government sees as the gold standard in the field. The agreement’s preamble promises to “protect and enforce labour rights, improve working conditions and living standards, and strengthen cooperation and the parties’ capacity on labour issues.” No ifs or buts there.

For the Canadian government, the TPP’s chapter on labour “seeks to ensure that economic development is not achieved at the expense of workers’ rights.” For the US government — at least before it withdrew from the agreement — the chapter provides “the strongest protections for workers of any trade agreement in history,” setting a “high-water mark for labour protections in a trade agreement.”

We disagree.

Suggested Citation

Tham, Joo-Cheong and Ewing, K. D., The Great Trade-Off (November 23, 2018). Inside Story, 2018. Available at SSRN:

Joo-Cheong Tham (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne ( email )

185 Pelham Street
Carlton, Victoria 3053

K. D. Ewing

King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom
+44 (0)20 7836 5454 (Phone)

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