Trade agreements provide for the establishment of institutional bodies offering a formal framework in which partner states can discuss issues related to the implementation and application of a social clause. Specific functions are assigned to each body. For example, one serves as a first instance in the dispute settlement process, while another intervenes as a forum where partners develop and operationalize cooperation programs. Today there are three types of institutional bodies linked to the social clause.
- The Permanent Secretariat. Closed since 2012, the NAALC Permanent Secretariat presented annual reports and comparative research on labour law and labour market of partner countries in order to assist the Ministerial Council in making informed decisions. The Secretariat also provided support for the cooperation activities implemented.
- The Ministerial Council. Each agreement provides for the creation of a forum in which labour Ministers (or their designees) of partner States can meet on a regular basis. This is the main decision-making body in the implementation of a social clause. It serves as a forum for the development of cooperation activities, for negotiations when a dispute arises and for defining the dispute settlement mechanism parameters. It also assesses the effective implementation and provides mechanisms for civil society participation (public, employers, trade unions) in the decision-making process of the Ministerial Council.
- The permanent forum of interministerial consultation. This institution is embodied differently from one agreement to another: the national administrative offices (NAO, NAALC), the national secretariats (Canada-Chile) or the national contact points (Canada-Costa Rica, etc.). These bodies act as contact points for the reception and evaluation of civil society complaints in each country. They represent a tool for cooperation allowing partners to exchange information about their labour market and to clarify their legislation if necessary.
Ways to strengthen the effectiveness of institutional bodies
- Establishing an independent permanent Secretariat. As of today, no permanent independent body is in charge of ensuring the implementation of the social clause included in the agreements. A permanent, autonomous Secretariat would be responsible for the implementation of the social clause, and could also have the power to investigate violations and impose sanctions.
- Increasing financial resources to the Ministerial Council and / or the Permanent Secretariat. More financial resources would strengthen the institution’s capacity to assist parties in the enforcement of their labour laws.
- Promoting civil society participation. Ministerial Councils provide mechanisms for public participation, however, little is known about such mechanisms. Wider dissemination of information on these mechanisms would allow for a more sustained involvement of civil society in the Ministerial Council activities, while increasing the legitimacy of the decisions taken.
- Expanding the mandate of the institutional bodies responsible for the implementation of trade agreements. By entrusting the mandate of ensuring the implementation of a social clause to main institutions in trade agreements, rather than to institutions created solely for the social clause, the mandate would then rest with institutions already active and with adequate funding.