Trade Negotiation & Enforcement

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ILAB's work to strengthen the linkages between labor standards and trade rules is designed to help improve rights and conditions for workers and to advance a goal of more broadly spreading the economic benefits of globalization. Our work also helps level the playing field for U.S. workers by discouraging trading partners from lowering labor standards as a means of attracting trade and investment. Read More

Our Role

ILAB advances workers' rights and working conditions around the world by:

  • Negotiating strong labor rights language in new trade and investment agreements and trade preference programs, as well as in the guidelines governing lending by multilateral development banks and international financial institutions;   
  • Administering the labor provisions of U.S. free trade agreements and trade preference programs to ensure that they are applied to protect the rights of workers; and 
  • Building the capacity of other countries and helping them improve their protection of workers' rights.    

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.


  • through bilateral partnerships, improve other governments' enforcement of laws and policies that protect workers' rights;
  • expand the ability of workers and their representatives to protect workers' rights;
  • increase governments' understanding of workers' rights, including specific labor commitments in trade agreements and the benefits of enforcing these obligations; and
  • strengthen employer compliance with international standards and national labor laws.

ILAB tracks the implementation of these objectives by monitoring how well:

  • governments are adopting or revising  laws, regulations, policies, and/or other instruments that strengthen worker rights; 
  • labor inspectorates and other relevant enforcement agencies are improving their performance in conducting labor inspections and enforcing national labor laws; and
  • employers  are increasing participation in effective social compliance  programs (e.g., using the ILAB Toolkit for Responsible Businesses or participating in the Better Work program).

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

The United States has trade agreements with 19 countries that include provisions to protect worker rights and facilitate cooperation among labor ministries. These provisions include mechanisms for soliciting advice from experts and involving the public, ongoing engagement with trading partner labor ministries, and formal meetings of labor ministries to discuss progress in implementation and to develop cooperative activities, such as technical exchanges, to promote international labor standards and effective enforcement of labor laws.  

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 US FTAs on behalf of the US Labor Department. We promote respect for and understanding of worker rights in U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs) by:

  1. Negotiating - negotiating strong labor rights language in new trade and investment agreements; 
  2. Monitoring - maintaining an in-depth understanding of international labor standards and relevant laws, policies and practices of U.S. trading partners through extensive collaboration with partner governments, workers and worker organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations (IOs) and employers and employer associations;
  3. Analyzing Compliance - assessing our trade partners’ compliance with the labor obligations of our FTAs—including respecting international labor standards and effectively enforcing their labor laws—proactively or in response to formal FTA complaints known as submissions; and
  4. Engaging - employing our monitoring and analysis to advocate for labor priorities in U.S. trade and foreign policy agenda, making recommendations to partner governments to remedy any weaknesses that are found, and collaborating with other governments and stakeholders to help strengthen labor standards in trade partner countries, including through technical exchanges or assistance when appropriate.

We undertake these activities in an effort to ensure that FTA partner governments:

  • understand their commitments under the FTA labor chapters,
  • revise or adopt laws, regulations, and policies to be consistent with international labor standards,
  • effectively enforce their labor laws, and
  • implement policies that protect worker rights.

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 greater economic growth. By offering duty-free treatment for imports of certain products into the United States from developing countries, these programs support the creation of new economic opportunities in the developing world. They also 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 the requirement that countries protect internationally recognized worker rights based on the core standards of the International Labor Organization and US Trade law. DOL/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 provided preferential duty-free entry of more than 4,650 products from approximately 142 countries and territories since 1976. Products and countries must meet certain criteria to be eligible for duty-free entry under the GSP. Countries may be removed from GSP eligibility if it is found that they fail to meet the established criteria, including those on workers' rights. Learn More

  • 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. At the center of AGOA are substantial trade preferences that, combined with the preferences under GSP, allow virtually all marketable goods produced in AGOA-eligible countries to enter the U.S. market duty-free. Learn More

  • Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA):

The CBTPA provides 17 beneficiary countries with duty-free access to the U.S. market for most goods. In particular, CBTPA provides for duty- and quota-free access for apparel products manufactured in designated beneficiary countries in the Caribbean Basin region. Learn More

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

HOPE II offers special 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 core labor standards and directly related Haitian law and to ensure the benefits of the HOPE II trade preferences are shared by workers and employers. Learn More