Fairness in the World Economy

Fairness in the World Economy

US Perspectives on International Trade Relations

Americo Beviglia Zampetti

In an international context, fairness is particularly important, since only a system which is perceived by its participants as fair can command acceptance and compliance. The main focus of this study is to investigate the development of the notion of fairness in US trade policy and law as well as the impact this notion has on international trade discussions and rule-making, and especially on the formation of the multilateral trade regime.

Chapter 5: Rethinking Fairness in the Evolution of the International Trade Policy and Rule-Making Discourse

Americo Beviglia Zampetti

Subjects: economics and finance, international economics, politics and public policy, international relations


In the trade policy discourse, the major structural deviation from the fairness approach championed by the USA and described in the previous chapters of the study is to be found in what goes under the name of ‘special and differential treatment’ afforded to developing countries. This principle has a long and troubled history, which largely coincides with the long-standing efforts of developing countries to modify the international trading system’s rules, which generally are perceived to be slanted in favour of developed countries1 to meet their own specific needs and interests. In particular, since the regime’s birth, developing countries have argued that the GATT is quite stringent with regard to the types of restrictions (e.g., quotas) that they may want to use, while being more lenient with regard to the instruments that industrial countries generally employ (e.g. subsidies for primary products). Hence, the arguments go beyond the simple consideration that, because of differences in bargaining assets (e.g. developed nations have more to offer in terms of trade opportunities in their markets) or relative power, the negotiations’ results (i.e., those of the GATT itself and subsequent rounds) were unfair. The developing countries’ objections often point out that, because of the way the system is set up and rules are designed, the resulting balance of benefits and burdens is unfair. This points to a more fundamental difference with regard to the respective understanding of what is ‘fair’. Indeed, developing countries often seem to espouse a different notion of fairness. From the US postwar...

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