United States: What Does U.S. Withdrawal From The Trans-Pacific Partnership Mean For Labor And Employment Policy?

Last Updated: February 2 2017
Article by Harold P. Coxson

On January 23, 2017, in his first full weekday in office, President Donald Trump fulfilled a campaign promise by signing a presidential memorandum taking executive action formally withdrawing the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. TPP included Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Brunei, in addition to the United States. Combined, those countries represent 40 percent of the global economy.

Proponents of TPP in the business community claimed the trade agreement would have reduced trade barriers, opened new markets, and slashed tariffs for American exports and imports, while protecting labor, the environment, and intellectual property. The agreement did not, however, directly address currency manipulation. Opponents in organized labor claimed TPP would have cost the United States millions of jobs and that it did not contain adequate protection for workers and the environment. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James Hoffa both praised President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from TPP, as did the construction union leaders who met with him in the White House.

President Trump's executive action drew mixed reactions on Capitol Hill, where TPP was pending Congressional action. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, stated that he was "glad the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead and gone" and that "now is the time to develop a new trade policy that helps working families, not just multinational corporations." Senator John McCain (R-AZ), on the other hand, termed the President's actions "a serious mistake" and commented, "This decision will forfeit the opportunity to promote American exports, reduce trade barriers, open new markets, and protect American invention and innovation."

TPP had been an important part of former President Barack Obama's legacy. It followed multi-lateral trade agreements (namely, the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA) negotiated by his predecessors George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

The absence of the United States from TPP raises concerns that China will fill the void and seek to control trade in the Asia-Pacific economic region. Beyond concerns for global trade policy, however, what might the effect of the decision to withdraw be on labor and employment law?

Potential Implications for Labor and Employment Policy

When President Obama announced TPP, he noted that it contained the strongest labor protections of any multilateral trade agreement ever negotiated. TPP's preface to "Chapter 19 – Labour" distinguished it from previous labor protections in NAFTA under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) which it termed as "weak." TPP's labor protections were described as a "sea change" from NAFTA's labor-side agreements and earlier trade agreements; the Obama administration asserted that TPP established "a new global norm for labor rights" backed up by enforceable dispute settlement procedures and trade sanctions.

The 12 nations signatory to TPP committed to establish and observe international labor standards set forth as the "fundamental human rights conventions" in the United Nations' International Labour Organization (ILO), which the United States has never ratified. Ratification of those conventions would have the force and effect of a treaty obligation overriding domestic labor and employment laws. The five "core" ILO standards incorporated in TPP are:

  1. freedom of association—the right to form and join unions without interference;
  2. freedom of association and collective bargaining—the right to negotiate collective bargaining agreements without interference;
  3. elimination of forced labor;
  4. abolition of child labor; and
  5. freedom from discrimination in employment.

Each of these ILO conventions—especially C.87's "Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise" and C.98's "Right to Organise and to Bargain Collectively"—has decades of ILO interpretations which run counter to the Taft–Hartley Act and precedent established by the Supreme Court of the United States protecting employer communications and prohibiting recognitional picketing, secondary boycotts, and the permanent replacement of economic strikers.

TPP also contained requirements that signatory countries adopt and maintain "acceptable conditions of work" including minimum wages, hours of work, overtime protections, and occupational safety and health.

In addition, the TPP established, in its words, "historic commitments" from the governments of three signatory countries—Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam—to institute legal reforms enacting enumerated laws on the right to form or join unions, and on minimum wages, for example.

Obviously, however, TPP's labor standards were insufficient to convince organized labor to support the trade agreement. Going forward, the rejection of the labor standards in TPP may pave the way for future administrations to negotiate even tougher standards in future trade agreements, potentially including the enforceability of the unratified ILO standards against the United States, which has been a long-term goal of American labor unions.

As Congress has never seen fit to ratify ILO C.87 and C.98, it would be ironic if Congress were to, in effect, ratify those labor standards through a future trade agreement.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions