Countering, Branding, Dealing: Using Economic and Social Rights in and Around the International Trade Regime

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European Journal of International Law. Volume 14, Number 1 (2003), p. 35-84.


This article explores how the creative use of international economic and social rights law might assist actors operating inside and around the international trade law regime to address the impact of trade on social concerns. In a world context where trade and social concerns overlap in many ways, strategies based on international human rights law may disturb conceptions of the trade regime as narrowly directed towards trade facilitation, while also providing a basis to address difficult problems such as reconciling the concerns for high social standards in both the South and the North. The article describes and relates strategies based on international social rights at three potential venues for the development of the trade regime. First, a strategy of 'countering' could utilize international social rights law to guide interpretation and application of trade treaties, including to challenge the selective spread of such 'human' rights intellectual property rights and investment rights. Second, international social rights might be achieved by, and in turn guide, NCO 'branding' practices. Third, a strategy of 'dealing' informed by norms of international social rights could generate broader reforms to the trade regime that would address both concerns about fair trade and regulatory competition in developed countries and concerns about trade access and development in developing countries.

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