Achieving synergy between international trade and human rights : a proposal for mainstreaming human rights in the WTO


University of British Columbia

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Master of Laws - LLM




The integration of trade and human rights is a ubiquitous topic that has dominated academic and policy research in recent years. While it is settled that the fields of trade and human rights are distinct, the relationship between the two have become more prominent especially with the conclusion of the Uruguay Trade Round which introduced trade subjects that diminish policy space of governments. The interactions of trade and human rights have been shown in modern times to affect the realization of some human rights in developing countries and LDCs. This influence of trade liberalization on the realization of human rights has necessitated studies that explore options for integration of trade and human rights in the WTO so that trade obligations do not stymie the fulfilment of human rights obligations. Bearing in mind the lex specialis nature of the WTO and human rights systems, an integration of trade and human rights in the WTO system must be predicated on a concept or norm common to both systems. This concept or norm is development. While development is intrinsic to both the WTO and the human rights systems, there is an urgent need for a shift in perspective in the WTO idea of development from a purely economic process to a human right that inures on individuals and peoples. This shift in perspective will mandate the introduction and enforcement of certain characteristics of the right to development: free, active and inclusive participation of all, both developed and developing countries in the trade process of the WTO, not only in terms of numbers but in terms of meaningful participation and must guarantee benefits for all Members. The human right to development approach will also entail a strengthening of existing special and differential treatment provisions. It is the argument of this thesis that a shift to a human right to development approach in the WTO space will contribute to the possibility of integrating trade and human rights. The ongoing Doha Trade Round provides the very forum for such shift. The problem however is whether the WTO Members have the political will to do this.

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