Chinese Taipei - 14 May 2022

Trade topics: Labour, CPTPP, Fisheries

Labor rights and working conditions may be affected if international trade and investment agreements are concluded between contracting parties. Some assert that these agreements advance states’ labor conditions because boosting economic activities creates job opportunities and raises wages. Others are concerned that the “race-to-the-bottom”
phenomenon might occur, namely, governments would be incentive to lower their labor protection standards to reduce manufacturers’ operation costs and enhance the competitiveness of their global exports. Hence, the interplay between economic integration and the labor welfare of participating states has been emphasized by both policymakers
and legal academics. In response, contemporary international economic agreements incorporate more “non-economic” elements. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is ambitious because it provides high-quality standards and a new platform to address broad coverage of labor matters (e.g., minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health) by establishing the link between labor protection and trade liberalization. This link ensures that implementing the CPTPP strengthens members’ capacity to fulfill labor protection standards.

Taiwan is an island country rich in marine resources. Hence, fishing has long constituted an important part of Taiwan’s economy. Taiwan currently has more than a thousand distant water fishing fleets, which is second only to China. Unfortunately, forced labor issues, exploitation recruitment, and human trafficking have been reported against Taiwan’s migrant fishers. Since 2017, Taiwan has reformed its relevant legal framework to strengthen the protections of its crews. Despite the changes, NGO investigations reveal that wage deductions and overtime work allegedly continue. The inclusion of several Taiwanese fishing vessels on the United States Forced Labor List in 2020 is another strike against the Taiwanese government after being lifted from the European Commission’s “Yellow Card” list.

Taiwan has recently applied to join the CPTPP. However, failing to offer equal and fundamental protections stipulated in the CPTPP may arguably constitute a stumbling block for Taiwan’s accession into the CPTPP since some CPTPP members are the primary home countries for migrant fishers in Taiwan. Therefore, this paper examines whether Taiwan’s current legal landscape regarding the protection of migrant fishers satisfies both the requirements set by the CPTPP and other relevant international labor standards, including the International Labour Organization conventions and the forced labor indicators. Specifically, this paper conducts a content analysis and in-depth interviews to identify how legal protections granted to migrant fishers are deficient and how Taiwan can improve them. By focusing on the labor chapter and relevant provisions of the CPTPP, this paper demonstrates how accession into the CPTPP will provide a more effective collaborating mechanism that will facilitate multilateral cooperation between Taiwan and other members. The cooperation will jointly address the forced labor issues on distant water fishing vessels. The goal of this paper is to envisage legal and policy recommendations to facilitate Taiwan’s accession into the CPTPP and polish Taiwan’s regulatory framework that protects migrant fishers.