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Advancing labour mobility in trade agreements: The lost opportunity in the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Meredith B. Lilly (Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada)

Journal of International Trade Law and Policy

ISSN: 1477-0024

Article publication date: 4 April 2019

Issue publication date: 19 June 2019




Labour mobility is increasingly recognized as an important component of a globalized international trading system. This paper aims to examine the role of temporary entry commitments in international trade agreements toward facilitating global labour mobility.


This paper traces three decades of temporary entry provisions in international trade agreements signed by the USA and Canada, beginning with their bilateral Canada–US Free Trade Agreement and culminating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).


The paper finds that while many countries have continued to liberalize their temporary entry commitments in various trade agreements, the USA has reversed course in the previous decade, hampering international progress. Meanwhile, Canada has pursued ever greater labour mobility provisions with most of its trading partners.

Practical implications

The unique roles played by the USA, Canada and other trading partners in advancing a coherent international labour mobility agenda are considered. To continue to advance labour mobility in trade agreements moving forward, policy alternatives to the “all” or “nothing” approaches pursued by Canada and the USA are suggested.


To the author’s knowledge, this paper is the first to formally evaluate labour mobility in the TPP and the only paper to outline the evolution of temporary entry in the US vs Canadian trade agreements over three decades.



The author gratefully acknowledges support to present this paper at the International Agricultural Trade Research Consortium 2017 Annual Meeting, and helpful feedback provided by its members. Also, recognized the funding support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. In addition, the author thanks for helpful comments received from two anonymous reviewers and participants of Fulbright Canada’s TPP workshop at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, February 2017.


Lilly, M.B. (2019), "Advancing labour mobility in trade agreements: The lost opportunity in the Trans-Pacific Partnership", Journal of International Trade Law and Policy, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 58-73.



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