US Perspectives on International Trade Relations
Chapter 2: Fairness: In Search of a Meaning
DEFINING THE NOTION OF FAIRNESS: INSIGHTS FROM POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY Fairness is a complex idea with a long history. As Woods put it, ‘very few ideas are very new’,1 and fairness is certainly not one of them. There is no accepted, uniform, and commonly shared definition of fairness. The notion is strongly associated with such ideas as equality, proportionality, reciprocity, equity, and justice,2 only to mention other terms that have found currency in the trade policy discourse.3 These concepts are entangled and their usage across disciplines and policy areas is far from univocal. But fairness, like justice, addresses issues that are fundamental to the social life of individuals as well as to nations. For the purpose of this study, which only attempts to elucidate the role of this concept in the trade policy discourse and practice, a useful theoretical starting point is found in the ‘principle of fairness’,4 or the ‘duty of fair play’, as developed by Hart and Rawls.5 The principle has been elaborated in order to justify political and legal obligations, even beyond those based on consensual acts, promises, and contracts. However, there is no reason not to extend its application to cooperative schemes generally. The principle accords with the widespread belief that accepting a benefit creates a liability to contribute to its cost of (re)production. Those who fail to execute this obligation take unfair advantage of others and thus violate a norm of reciprocity or fair play. Rawls’s presentation of the principle runs: The...
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