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Lisa Toohey

There is a large and well-developed body of literature critiquing the role of trade regulation for its negative impacts on human rights, particularly in developing countries. In contrast, the human rights-facilitating role of trade law tends to be neglected. This chapter argues that human-rights-supporting dimensions of trade law do exist, and should be given attention and acknowledgment within the human rights literature as part of a broader mapping exercise of the interaction between the two fields. This interaction is examined through a case study of Vietnam, a developing country which has only fairly recently integrated into the international economic system. Vietnam has a complex and often problematic record of engagement with international human rights obligations, and even the very language of rights contains ambiguity and ambivalence. While not seeking to downplay the seriousness of the challenges to the universal acceptance of human rights in Vietnam, this chapter argues that it is important also to pay attention to areas in which threads of human rights discourse have successfully emerged. In the Vietnamese context, the economic sphere plays an unexpectedly significant role, with international trade obligations setting into train some positive and meaningful changes. In this way, trade law can act as a subtle but significant conduit for human rights-supportive reform that often remains invisible to the human rights community.