The World Trade Organization and Human Rights
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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.
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Chapter 7: Inter-regime Encounters

Andrew T.F. Lang


Andrew T. F. Lang Human rights have, over the last two decades, emerged as one pillar of progressive critiques of the contemporary international economic order. As a result, human rights actors have emerged as important critical and reformative voices in debates about global economic governance generally, and about the global trade regime in particular. Since the late 1990s, there have been significant efforts on the part of human rights actors to engage with the global trade regime – to elaborate human rights-based critiques of the WTO, to define a ‘human rights approach’ to trade, and to facilitate cooperation between the international trade and human rights regimes. This encounter – what I will call the ‘trade/human rights encounter’ – has come to be a significant domain of contestation and discussion over the shape and future of the global trading system. This chapter seeks to highlight and reflect on the terrain over which this encounter has so far occurred – the framings in which it has operated, and underlying narratives which have helped to give it its shape. In Part 1, I give some history of the development of the trade and human rights debate, focusing in particular in the period from the late 1990s to roughly 2005, which I see as its key formative period. In Part 2, I draw attention to two discursive frameworks or narratives which have been important in the evolution of this debate. First, I show that, through the narrative of ‘inter-regime encounters’, political contestation over the purpose and shape of...

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