Trade Negotiation & Enforcement

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ILAB's work helps level the playing field for U.S. workers by ensuring that our trade partners do not lower labor standards as a means of attracting trade and investment.

Our Role

ILAB promotes a strong U.S. trade policy by:

  • Negotiating robust labor provisions in new trade and investment agreements, and enforcing the eligibility criteria of trade preference programs, as well as in the guidelines governing lending by multilateral development banks and international financial institutions;  
  • Enforcing the labor provisions of U.S. free trade agreements and trade preference programs to ensure that no country gains an unfair advantage; and
  • Building the capacity of other countries to enforce and improve labor protections.   

ILAB also represents the interests of U.S. workers in U.S. government interagency policy deliberations on trade-related issues such as the elimination of unfair trade barriers, implementation of trade remedies, and the protection of intellectual property rights.

The labor provisions of U.S. free trade agreements help ensure that the benefits of trade are widely shared, that countries do not reduce workers’ protections in order to gain a trade advantage or attract investment, and that U.S. businesses and workers compete on a level playing field globally. 

In 1993, the Presidents of the United States, Canada, and Mexico signed the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as well as the first side agreement on labor standards, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC). Beginning with the U.S.-Jordan FTA in 2001, all subsequent FTAs have included labor provisions.

To reach each US FTA's labor provisions and learn more about our work with our FTA partners, please choose from the links below:

The Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) within the Bureau of International Labor Affairs is responsible for overseeing the labor provisions in U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs) on behalf of the US Labor Department. We work to ensure that U.S. trade agreements respect workers’ rights and that American workers are able to compete on a level playing field by:

  1. Negotiating - securing strong labor-related commitments in new trade and investment agreements;
  2. Monitoring - maintaining an in-depth understanding of laws, policies and practices of U.S. trade partners;
  3. Analyzing Compliance - assessing our trade partners’ compliance with the labor obligations of our FTAs proactively or in response to formal FTA complaints known as submissions;
  4. Engaging - employing our monitoring and analysis to advocate on behalf of measures that ensure that no country gains an unfair trade advantage by reducing labor protections, and working with other developed economies to make sure that they do their part so that all countries play by the rules;
  5. Enforcing – using all available tools under an FTA, including participating in formal dispute settlement when appropriate, to hold every trade partner to their commitments; and
  6. Supporting – when a trade partner demonstrates political will to fix a problem, utilizing OTLA staff expertise and targeted technical assistance to build the partner country’s capacity to enforce and increase labor protections. 

Labor provisions in free trade agreements establish official processes for receiving complaints ("submissions") from interested organizations that believe a trading partner is not fulfilling the labor commitments it made. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Labor, specifically the Monitoring & Enforcement of Trade Agreements Division within ILAB's Office of Trade and Labor Affairs, receives and reviews submissions made under the labor chapters of our trade agreements.

Each U.S. free trade agreement has a council with high-level and technical labor and trade officials from both countries. These councils meet periodically to have face-to-face conversations on key labor issues, changes to labor law, and potential technical cooperation needs. These meetings always include a public session the next day. Attending a public session is a great way to hear about the issues and possible cooperation the governments discussed in their meetings. You may also directly ask questions to officials from the U.S. and the other country’s government about labor issues that you consider a priority. Your input informs our conversations and future cooperation on labor issues with our trading partners.

Preference programs are unilateral trade benefits that the U.S. Government provides to developing countries to promote economic growth and reduce the cost of goods, such as manufacturing inputs, in the U.S. market.

Access to preference program privileges is contingent on eligibility requirements, including that countries protect workers’ rights. ILAB serves on the interagency body that administers these trade programs and monitors beneficiary countries' compliance with the eligibility criteria established by Congress.

There are four main preference programs:

  • Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)

The GSP program has covered 122 countries and territories since 1976. Countries may be removed from GSP eligibility if it is found that they fail to meet established criteria, including those on workers' rights. Learn Morehttp://www.dol.gov/ilab/images/tda/list_bg.png

  • African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)

AGOA is the cornerstone of U.S. trade and investment policy with sub-Saharan Africa. Through AGOA, the US promotes free markets, expands U.S.-African trade and investment, stimulates economic growth, and facilitates sub-Saharan Africa's integration into the global economy. Learn Morehttp://www.dol.gov/ilab/images/tda/list_bg.png

  • Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA):

The CBTPA covers 17 beneficiary countries in the Caribbean Basin region.  Learn Morehttp://www.dol.gov/ilab/images/tda/list_bg.png

  • Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership for Encouragement Act of 2008 (HOPE II):

HOPE II offers trade preferences to Haiti in exchange for compliance with specified country-level and producer-specific labor eligibility requirements. The two kinds of eligibility requirements provide the U.S. Government with mechanisms to promote compliance with labor standards and Haitian labor laws.  Learn Morehttp://www.dol.gov/ilab/images/tda/list_bg.png