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Sustainable development and trade liberalisation : the opportunities and threat roused by the WTO

Voituriez T.. 2005. OCL. Oléagineux Corps gras Lipides, 12 (2) : p. 129-133.

DOI: 10.1051/ocl.2005.0129

The entanglement of trade and sustainable development agenda raises two different and obvious concerns we would like to dwell upon. The first one basically deals with the definition of sustainable development and the fear that the concept might become looser and looser the more it pervades trade and corporate arenas. The second concern pertains to the compatibility of international trade laws embodied within the WTO, with international environment and labour agreements hosted by the UN. This paper provides some argument to the debate by focusing on the implications, on these two areas of concerns, of sustainable development pervading the WTO. Our two main arguments are as follows. Firstly, the social component of sustainable development is today the poor relation of sustainable development¿s inscription among the WTO objectives. Secondly, effective restrictions on trade for either health or natural resource preservation are extremely rare. Article XX of the Gatt, allowing for such a restriction ("exception" is the appropriate word), cannot be referred to as long as WTO members omit to abide to non-discriminatory principles in their trade policies. Whatever the reasons one country requests to escape WTO rules, it has to do so while treating its trading partners on the same foot. These two results may reassure those developing countries that fear a "new" or "green" protectionism (which seems more fantasized than real in so far) from rich countries. Does it all suggest that WTO principle-compatible trade and sustainable trade is the same animal? The case law would rather suggest that WTO and its sustainable development objective seems more an organisation aimed at preventing countries from using sustainable development as a fallacious argument for trade restriction than an organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable trade per se.

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