The World Trade Organization and Human Rights

The World Trade Organization and Human Rights

Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Edited by Sarah Joseph, David Kinley and Jeff Waincymer

This collection of essays from leading academics examines the connection between the World Trade Organization (WTO) and human rights issues, a topic which has provoked significant debate, particularly in the decade since the collapsed WTO talks in Seattle in 1999.

Chapter 12: Democratic Deficit, Participation and the WTO

Sarah Joseph

Subjects: economics and finance, international economics, law - academic, human rights, international economic law, trade law, politics and public policy, human rights


Sarah Joseph This chapter will analyse arguments that the World Trade Organization (‘WTO’) suffers from a ‘democratic deficit’, which casts doubt on the legitimacy and desirability of its rules and policies. First, this chapter outlines the two strands of this accusation of ‘democratic deficit’. That is: 1. 2. That the WTO unduly undermines the regulatory capacity of States, and That democratic deficiencies exist within WTO internal processes, such as negotiations and dispute settlements. Secondly, I examine the relevance to this issue of international human rights law, particularly the right of political participation in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (‘ICCPR’).1 Thirdly, many of the alleged democratic deficits of and within the WTO afflict other international regimes. In this regard, a comparison between the WTO regime and the international human rights regime is undertaken in order to identify whether democratic deficiencies within the WTO are of greater concern than the general democratic deficiencies that exist at the international level of governance. Fourthly, potential limits to the WTO’s mandate, which might strike a more appropriate balance between national regulatory powers and international rules in light of democratic deficiencies in WTO internal processes, are discussed. The fifth section concludes this chapter. 1. THE TWO COMPONENTS TO THE WTO/DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT ARGUMENT There are generally two strands to the ‘democratic deficit’ arguments. First, 1 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 14668 (entered into force 23 March 1976). 313 314...

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