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China-EU Trade Deal Could Face Intense Resistance Due To Beijing’s Labour Rights Issues

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republicworld– Though Beijing has touted its investment pact with the European Union (EU) as a strategic breakthrough, concerns have arisen about the deal, which may not get the final approval of some EU lawmakers owing to the labour rights issues in China. According to ANI, in the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), Beijing had agreed to open some of its restricted markets on European businesses and had agreed to ratify two international conventions on forced labour. However, critics later said that the deal lacks enforcement measures to ensure Beijing makes meaningful improvements for workers.

Now, the deal is expected to face intense resistance from some European lawmakers, while international unionists, who say the pact will do nothing to stop human rights abuses or protect labour rights in China, have vowed to ramp up pressure over the deal. It is worth noting that over the past years, China has faced mounting criticism, including from the EU and the US over the alleged use of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in forced labour camps, mainly in Xinjiang region. But China has repeatedly denied the claims and said that it runs vocational training centres to combat religious extremism and terrorism.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has identified eight fundamental conventions covering areas considered to be basic principles and rights at work, like forced labour, collective bargaining and the right to form trade unions. Even though China, which is a member of the ILO, has already ratified four of the less controversial conventions, it, however, has not agreed to ratify two conventions on granting workers’ freedom of association and protect their right to organise. Frank Hoffer, a research fellow at the Global Labour University and a former ILO official, said the EU should not be silent on human rights abuses though it may be unlikely to convince or push China to do things they don’t want to do through a trade agreement.

Hoffer further said that the governments are generally reluctant to ratify conventions that require legal enactment or revision for compliance. Sean Cooney, who is an international and comparative labour law expert at the University of Melbourne, added that ratification of ILO conventions by member countries could expose them to its supervisory mechanisms for alleged failures in implementation.

EU-China could lead to ‘incremental improvement’

Further, he said that ratifying the forced labour convention could be politically controversial for China, as it requires member states to suppress any forced labour as a means of political coercion, education or as punishment for holding political views or ideologies opposed to the established political, social and economic system. Cooney added that it is also unlikely for China to go down the same path as Vietnam, which ratified conventions and enacted laws to allow independent worker organisations after it signed a free trade agreement with the EU in 2019.

According to international law experts, the EU-China deal could lead to “incremental improvement” at best, in areas that are not completely incompatible with the nature of China’s political system. Experts said that the deal had not resulted in any new commitments on labour rights, nor had a time frame been set for China to ratify the conventions. They said that even if China ratifies these two conventions related to forced labour in the best-case scenario there is no guarantee of their meaningful implementation. They also mentioned that the EU-China deal would have added value if it provided for an external system of monitoring and accountability for systematic labour rights violations.