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To What Extent Should Labor and Environmental Standards Be Linked to Trade?


  • Shahin Magda

    (Trade-Related Assistance Center, American Chamber, Egypt)


The re-emergence of the ever-lingering trade linkage debate, falling between the prevailing financial crisis unprecedented in its worldwide implications and the persistent failure of the negotiations of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), underscores the contentiousness of incorporating non-trade values on labor and the environment as standards in the rules-based trading system. Is the World Trade Organization (WTO) ready and well disposed to enter into full-fledged negotiations to devise additional rules to deal with labor and the environment? Is the timing ripe to add new obligations onto member states when they are struggling with the "development round" and there is hardly an end in sight?This paper assesses the `real possibility' and the `extent' to which social and environmental standards should be incorporated in the rules-based trading system. The paper argues that at present there is no need for elaboration or the explicit accommodation of particular environmental or labor standards within WTO agreements. Nor is there any indication that consensus on the content of such standards could be achieved. The constructive ambiguity which is so characteristic to multilateralism at play, and the provisions in existing WTO agreements, in particular General Exceptions Article XX, already provide sufficient and flexible accommodation for these key values. The inclusion of specific and rigid standards governing non-trade matters in the WTO would be opening a Pandora's Box and if hastily addressed could have long-term and dangerous implications for the system as a whole, and its developing country members in particular.

Suggested Citation

  • Shahin Magda, 2009. "To What Extent Should Labor and Environmental Standards Be Linked to Trade?," The Law and Development Review, De Gruyter, vol. 2(1), pages 28-52, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:lawdev:v:2:y:2009:i:1:n:2

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