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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal European Foreign Affairs Review
Title of proceedings European Foreign Affairs Review


Labour standards are one of the most contested issues in economic relations between developed and emerging countries. While attempts to codify such standards in the WTO have failed, the EU and the US have intensified their efforts to promote them in bilateral and regional FTAs. Whereas this practice has been quite consistent across the globe, in the absence of EU and US FTAs with China and India, the issue has remained disputed. This article turns the question on its head and explores to what extent the EU and the US have been promoting labour standards in China and India in the absence of conditional clauses, by focusing on more horizontal strategies of cooperation instead. Drawing on the analytical framework of institutional and substantive “labour standards promotion in the absence of conditionality” and on the "demand-and-supply-model" of regulatory influence, the study specifies the dimensions in which practices vis-à-vis China and India depart from the "norm" and examines when the US and the EU face receptiveness and opposition. It reveals that while conditional approaches in the field of labour standards are highly contested by China and India, the US and the EU are able to engage the latter countries via bilateral dialogues, MoUs and other joint documents, and cooperative activities. It also shows, however, that in their bilateral cooperation, core labour standards are less consistently addressed than technical and governance labour standards.