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Concepts of Fairness in the Global Trading System


  • Andrew Brown

    (Wellfleet, MA)

  • Robert Stern

    (University of Michigan)


In this paper, we first discuss why fairness is a condition of the agreements among governments that form the global trading system. We then suggest that fairness can best be considered within the framework of two concepts: equality of opportunity and distributive equity. We observe that the efficiency criterion is not a primary yardstick of fairness, and though it is relevant in choosing among alternative ways of realizing fairness, it is not without its own limitations. We thereafter discuss what equality of opportunity and distributive equity mean when applied to the commitments that governments make in the global trading system. For this purpose, we divide these commitments into four categories: those relating directly to market access; those concerning supporting rules designed to prevent cheating in market access commitments or to facilitate trade flows; those relating to procedures for the settlement of disputes or the use of trade remedy measures; and those relating to governance of the system. (We say nothing in this paper about the issue of fairness in the context of the last category.) Finally, we make some comments about fairness in the Doha Development Round, first reviewing some proposals made by Stiglitz and Charlton, and then making some observations about the central issue of market access.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew Brown & Robert Stern, 2005. "Concepts of Fairness in the Global Trading System," Working Papers 544, Research Seminar in International Economics, University of Michigan.
  • Handle: RePEc:mie:wpaper:544

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Carraro, Carlo & Marchiori, Carmen & Sgobbi, Alessandra, 2005. "Advances in negotiation theory : bargaining, coalitions, and fairness," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3642, The World Bank.
    2. Mattoo, Aaditya & Subramanian, Arvind, 2004. "The WTO and the poorest countries: the stark reality," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(03), pages 385-407, November.
    3. Hoekman, Bernard, 2004. "Dismantling Discrimination Against Developing Countries: Access, Rules and Differential Treatment," CEPR Discussion Papers 4694, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Hoekman, Bernard & Ozden, Caglar, 2005. "Trade preferences and differential treatment of developing countries : a selective survey," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3566, The World Bank.
    5. Bernard M. Hoekman & Petros C. Mavroidis, 2000. "WTO Dispute Settlement, Transparency and Surveillance," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 23(04), pages 527-542, April.
    6. Steven M. Suranovic, 2000. "A Positive Analysis of Fairness with Applications to International Trade," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 23(3), pages 283-307, March.
    7. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2000. "Two Principles for the Next Round or, How to Bring Developing Countries in from the Cold," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 23(04), pages 437-454, April.
    8. Risse, Mathias, 2005. "Fairness in Trade," Working Paper Series rwp05-004, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • F02 - International Economics - - General - - - International Economic Order and Integration
    • F10 - International Economics - - Trade - - - General
    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations


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