What is it about?

In June 2017, an arbitral panel handed down the first decision interpreting labor provisions in a free trade agreement in a case brought by the US against Guatemala. To the surprise of many labor and human rights advocates, the panel decided that, while the US showed that Guatemala failed to effectively enforce its labor laws in several instances, the US did not prove that Guatemala did so in a manner affecting trade between the parties. The chapter identifies and compares four emerging schools of thought on what the case means for the trade-labor debate, then provides a brief update on fundamental labor rights reform efforts in Guatemala in the aftermath of the panel decision. While the four schools differ on the significance of the case to academic and policy debates on the application of FTA dispute resolution mechanisms to labor standards and the efficacy of FTA dispute resolution mechanisms in general, there is consensus that it was problematic to exclude petitioners and other labor and human rights organizations from the formal arbitration proceedings.

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Why is it important?

This chapter analyzes and compares emerging theories on why the US did not prevail in its trade dispute with Guatemala over failure of the Guatemalan government to effectively enforce its labor laws - and explores the implications the case may have for the project of linking labor and human rights to trade agreements.


One of the most surprising discoveries in writing this chapter on the CAFTA Guatemala labor case was learning that the dispute resolution chapter of CAFTA is difficult to implement in the context of trade disputes, not only in the context of labor disputes. While the case is seminal and has led to reforms and rethinking of the linkage of trade and labor in free trade agreements, the US loss to Guatemala has had a chilling effect on the filing of labor petitions under free trade agreements.

Tequila Brooks

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Enforcement of labor standards in trade agreements: the case of Guatemala, January 2022, Edward Elgar Publishing,
DOI: 10.4337/9781788977371.00023.
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