[Isabel Feichtner is a professor of law and economics at Goethe Universität Frankfurt]This post is part of the Yale Journal of International Law Volume 37, Issue 2 symposium. Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.
Robert Howse’s and Joanna Langille’s article on the Seal Products Dispute is a truly admirable piece of normative doctrinal scholarship. The authors do not hide their preferences with respect to animal welfare and the protection of seals in particular. Their propositions as to the interpretation of WTO law are, however, not merely guided by this specific policy preference. Instead their argumentation is supported by a larger vision of global governance and the proper balance between international trade law and domestic regulatory autonomy, all the while thoroughly grounded in the WTO’s own case law.
Having been consistently inspired and convinced by the writings of Rob Howse on the WTO I am not the one to argue with the authors’ reconstruction of the trade regime that emphasizes the need for deference to domestic regulatory choices and that wishes (where possible) to limit the disciplines of trade law to prohibitions of discrimination. Thus, I will not offer a fundamental critique. Instead I will take up what intrigues me most in their article -- the notion of “non instrumental public morals justification” – and raise two questions: first whether the seals dispute is a suitable test case for such a justification given that the EU itself had to justify the trade restrictions in instrumental terms; and second whether public morals justifications -- even though non-instrumental -- should be submitted to some form of rationality test.
The (Non-)Instrumentality of the EU Seal Products Ban
For Regulation 1007/2009 to conform to EU law the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament had to argue that the seal products ban contained in this regulation was necessary for the functioning of the internal market. Since the EU treaties do not grant to the EU a competence to adopt a trade ban for the sole purpose of animal welfare protection, Council and Parliament based the ban on Art. 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (now Art. 114 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). For the same reason the trade ban on cat and dog fur in Regulation 1523/2007 was also based on Art. 95 TEC. This legal basis allows for “the approximation of the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States which have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market.” As a consequence of this choice of legal basis the seals ban had to be justified in terms of its instrumentality for the functioning of the internal market. A convincing case had to be made that the (almost complete) ban on trade in seal products within the EU pursued the objective of the functioning of the internal market.
As Howse and Langille have convincingly argued a measure may pursue multiple purposes. Indeed Art. 114 TFEU itself mandates the EU to pursue in its harmonization legislation a high level of health, safety, environmental and consumer protection. Whether the EU is competent, however, to pursue such aims in a non-instrumental fashion is open to debate. Taking a similar posture to the EU as Howse and Langille do vis-à-vis the WTO one may be inclined to argue that respect for member state diversity and value pluralism within the EU mandates a restrictive stance of the EU with respect to expressive legislation, signifying moral opprobrium.