Powered by Blogger.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Sustainable Development & WTO: Breaking Down Barriers

The concept of sustainable development includes social justice, equal income distribution, full employment, safe and healthy working environments, environmental protection and socio-economic welfare. The international legal framework system on sustainable development is composed by mandatory instruments and soft law. One can argue that the most relevant principles related to sustainable development are embedded in the WTO preamble. Some fear that the WTO preamble demands the advancement of sustainable development norms. Others argue that WTO preamble only obstructs interpretation of WTO rights and obligations from impairing achievement of the highest goals that major international legal instruments claim to promote, namely sustainable development. One question stays open: is WTO the most appropriate forum to enforce sustainable development issues? 

An analysis of sustainable development issues inside the WTO dispute system shows that from over more than four hundred disputes submitted to the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) only 10% of the cases were actually related to sustainable development issues. It is true that the extent and nature of the incorporation of sustainable development issues into WTO dispute settlement is highly contentious amont WTO members. Nevertheless, no one can deny that many of the future challenges facing the WTO system are related to sustainable development issues.

Such issues are likely to include the relationship between environmental challenges such as global warming and trade, and trade and energy, among others. 

The WTO’s ability to reconcile multilateral trade liberalization with sustainable development is a central concern to the institution’s legitimacy and is, therefore, vital to further advancing free trade. 

Ligia Maura Costa. Partner at Ligia Maura Costa, Advocacia, full professor at FGV-EAESP and associated professor at Sciences Po. Paris.