The qualification of liberalized international trade as a public good has often been challenged, both by authors and some countries. Although it can be argued that the WTO promotes the common good in the sense that it offers a forum to address trade conflicts stemming from the clashes of national economic interests, not all countries can benefit from this regime in a balanced way. Moreover the WTO system is formally addressed only to states, with civil society organizations playing a merely marginal role. The principle of comparative advantage has provided the theoretical grounding to consider liberalized trade and investment as welfare enhancing while other voices have denounced the regime as neo-colonialist or an instrument that mainly benefitted (capital) exporting countries. Thus the present international economic system is accused of not providing significant benefits to disadvantaged areas of the globe, failing to provide adequate protection to other important public goods and values such as the protection of the environment and endangered species, cultural heritage, human rights, and the right to health. Those values are, however, ever more included in the concept of sustainable development and have been formally embraced by the WTO Secretariat for trade and UNCTAD for investment. Nevertheless, the law-making and judicial institutions governing international economic relations are often perceived as undemocratic and dominated by economic superpowers.
The agora will critically address these problems with fresh ideas on how to accommodate these competing global public goods: Is the protection of general interests and sustainable development sufficiently recognized under WTO law? Is the right of states to legislate for the protection of public interests sufficiently safeguarded under present international investment law? Does the strength of mechanisms for the international settlement of economic disputes de facto create a pre-eminence of international economic law above human rights or environmental law? Is the right to development compatible with the present international economic system?
Zachary Douglas (Graduate Institute of International Law and Development Studies, Geneva)
Andrej Lang and Christian Tietje (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle) “Community Interests in World Trade Law”
Daniel Behn, Kristian Fauchald and Malcolm Langford (University of Oslo) “Private or Public Good? An Empirical Perspective on International Investment Law and Arbitration”
Jenya Grigorova (Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne) “Protection of Public Goods, Right of States to Regulate and Non-Discrimination: A Comparative Analysis of Non-Discrimination in International Trade and Investment in the Energy Sector”