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Trade, Economics and Environment

Does the WTO need a New Agreement to Save its Dispute Settlement System?

by Julian Ku

The WTO’s new Director-General Roberto Azevedo is celebrating a rare event:  The WTO’s entire 159-country membership has finally reached  a new multilateral agreement.  This is the first time that the WTO’s membership as a whole (as opposed to smaller groups of its member states) has reached an agreement since it was formed in 1994 and the first set of agreements under the so-called “Doha” round of negotiations that has been going on since 2001.  Most commentary in the United States and elsewhere describe this as a pretty small-bore agreement on trade facilitation and agriculture (especially given the scope of the original agenda under Doha).

I am intrigued by some commentary coming out of Bali to the effect that a new agreement is needed to keep the WTO relevant and legitimate in the eyes of its members.  The WSJ has this unattributed comment:

Some negotiators said the limited pact gives the WTO credibility to continue its other main role: as an arbiter of trade disputes.

The WTO works by consensus and the breakdown of the talks could also have hurt the organization’s dispute-settling mechanism, they said.

I guess I am skeptical that the lack of progress on  new agreements will have any serious impact on the ability of the WTO’s famous dispute settlement body to stay relevant.  With or without the new agreement, the WTO is already an immensely deep and complex web of legal obligations for a larger and larger set of members. Interpreting these obligations, and managing disputes, is probably significant enough to most members that they don’t feel like they need a new agreement to stay engaged.

Anyway, the Bali agreement is only a “draft ministerial declaration” which needs to be formalized next year.  Then, the U.S. Congress will have a chance to vote on it (and probably the Asian and European regional trade deals).  This ought to be loads of fun in a congressional election year.  At least they don’t have to get two-thirds of the U.S. Senate on board.

Morality Play at the WTO

by Roger Alford

“[N]othing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent the adoption or enforcement by any contracting party of measures … necessary to protect public morals.” Article XX(a), GATT 1994

The long-awaited WTO panel decision on the EU’s ban of seal products is now available. The case raises one of the most interesting unanswered questions regarding WTO jurisprudence: to what extent may Member States impose trade restrictions based on moral or ethical concerns? Can a Member State impose a trade ban because the manner in which a product is produced violates the State’s own subjective understanding of public morals? The answer from the WTO panel is a resounding yes.

The case arose out of the EU’s concern for animal welfare. Seal hunting often involves the inhumane killing of seals resulting in needless suffering. The EU banned the importation of seal products, but exempted hunting by Inuit communities (IC hunts) and in furtherance of marine resource management where seals threatened fishing stocks (MRM hunts). Canada and Norway objected to the ban on seal products, and filed a case before the WTO. A WTO panel issued their report last week.

The case required the WTO to assess whether public morals can justify the ban on seal products. Under WTO jurisprudence, the standard for what constitutes “public morals” is exceedingly easy to satisfy. As stated in US–Gambling, “public morals” are “standards of right and wrong conduct maintained by or on behalf of a community or a nation.” The content of public morals “can vary in time and space, depending upon a range of factors, including prevailing social, cultural, ethical and religious values.” (See para. 7.380). In essence, the WTO panel must assess whether there is public concern about a particular issue and whether that concern is animated by that particular Member State’s public morals. (See para. 7.383).

In EU–Seal Products, the WTO panel examined the text of the regulation and the legislative history as evidence that there was public moral concern about the issue. Ethical concerns expressed in the text of a regulation combined with legislative debate about the morality of the issue appeared to be sufficient for the panel. (The panel dismissed public surveys as inconclusive). On finding that there was a EU concern, the panel held that the:

EU seal regime’s objective is to address the moral concerns of the EU public with regard to the welfare of seals, including the incidence of inhumane killing of seals and EU participation as consumers in and exposure to economic activity which sustains the market for seal products derived from inhumane hunts. EU public concerns on seal welfare appear to be related to seal hunts in general and not to any particular type of seal hunts. In other words, all inhumane seal hunts are of concern, not just commercial hunts. (See para. 7.410).

The key holding was that seal welfare is a matter of EU public morals that justifies the ban on seal products. (See para. 7.505; 7.631). As for the exceptions, the WTO panel rejected the EU’s exemptions for IC hunts, finding that Inuit hunts in Greenland were large-scale commercial operations that were similar to the Canadian and Norwegian commercial hunts covered by the rule. In addition, the exception for MRM hunts was rejected because the EU did not apply the exception in an even-handed way as compared to Canadian and Norwegian hunts. (See 7.650).

Several points are worthy of emphasis. First, the WTO has embraced moral pluralism. This includes what Rob Howse and Joanna Langille describe in this YJIL article as “noninstrumental moral beliefs” grounded in philosophical or religious beliefs. Islamic countries may ban alcohol, Hindu countries may ban bovine meat, and Israel may ban non-kosher meat. Not because there is anything inherently harmful about those products, but simply because they violate the public ethic of that community. As Howse and Langille put it, “public morals” may be justified either as “instrumental regulation designed to counter certain social ills, or as expressive regulation designed to express or give force to intrinsic moral intuitions or shared values.” The fact that there is not universal concern for seal welfare, or that Canada and Norway do not share EU’s concerns, is irrelevant for WTO purposes.

Second, the public moral concerns may derive from conduct that is wholly extraterritorial to the Member State. Under this reasoning, a Member State should be free to impose a ban on products that destroy the rainforest in the Amazon, harm child laborers at rubber plantations in Africa, or advance blatant government corruption in Asia. Personally, that makes sense to me in light of the prison labor exception (Art. XX(e)) included in the original GATT 1948 to address extraterritorial evils such as products manufactured in concentration camps and gulags. But it is nonetheless a controversial proposition.

Third, satisfying a WTO panel that a matter is of ethical concern requires little more than the sponsor of the legislation making sure to include appropriate language in the preamble of the draft regulation and raising moral concerns on the floor of the legislature. The test is easily met in the hands of a skillful legislator. The indeterminacy of establishing a genuine moral or ethical public concern regarding a particular practice is fraught with uncertainty.

Fourth, determining whether a restriction is “necessary” to protect public morals requires the WTO panel to determine the efficacy of a means in pursuit of an intangible goal. How does one determine whether a trade ban is necessary to further moral objections to inhumane hunting? The WTO panel indicated that as long as the trade restriction materially contributed to the objective of reducing demand and avoiding exposure, it satisfied the “necessity” requirement. (7.636-7637).

Fifth, the public morals exception may become the new battleground for WTO litigation. Rather than consistently ignoring this exception and rushing to litigate Article XX(b) (protection of human, animal, or plant health or life) or Article XX(g) (protection of exhaustible natural resources), the new litigation strategy may be to identify how a trade restriction advances ethical concerns of the Member State. In the future, we may see IP piracy restrictions justified as a reflection of public concern about the morality of stealing, a carbon tax implemented out of moral concerns for the ethics of sustainable development, and restrictions on any number of Chinese products justified out of concern that Chinese workers are subjected to a mandatory one-child-per-family policy implemented through forced abortions. After EU–Seal Products the public morals argument is open for creative interpretation.

To be clear, I support a liberal reliance on public ethics to justify legitimate trade restrictions. But the difficulty is how to cabin the morality exception to avoid abuse. EU–Seal Products is now before the WTO Appellate Body for review and clarification.

Chevron and the Rise of Arbitral Power: A Response

by Michael D. Goldhaber

[Michael D. Goldhaber serves as Senior International Correspondent and "The Global Lawyer" columnist for The American Lawyer and the ALM media group. His writes widely on human rights and corporate accountability, international arbitration, and global multiforum disputes. His e-book on Chevron will be published next year by Amazon. His first post can be found here.]

I’m grateful for the very gracious and insightful comments shared by the eminent arbitrator Christoph Schreuer, the scourge of eminent arbitrators Muthucumaraswamy Sornarjah, and the wunderkind of arbitration scholarship, Anthea Roberts. Having solicited a wide range of commentary on my Article, I now must defend myself from friendly jabs on both flanks.

Dr. Schreuer and Professor Roberts both argue thoughtfully that the relationship between tribunals and courts should be understood in a broader context. Along the way, Dr. Schreuer questions my realist view that arbitrators effectively review judges. In the course of a bracing systemic critique, Professor Sornarajah calls my desire for proportionality analysis and a plenary appeal within arbitration naive.

I stand by my position that arbitrators are increasingly at odds with judges, and that they functioned like reviewing judges in several of the final awards surveyed (although I perhaps could have been more attentive to terminology). Dr. Schreuer helpfully distinguishes between vacating a decision (in an annulment) and replacing it (in an appeal), and argues that arbitrators do neither. But consider the results. When the treaty tribunal in Saipem v Bangladesh reinstated a contract arbitration award that had been nullified by a national court, it effectively vacated the court decision, and replaced it with a decision confirming the commercial arbitration. In White v. India, the tribunal stripped the national courts of jurisdiction because they were too slow, and effectively stepped in to confirm a commercial arbitration award. In Chevron v. Ecuador I, the tribunal stripped the courts of jurisdiction for being too slow, and expressly decided the court cases de novo under Ecuadorian law. Surely these results were functionally equivalent to appellate review. Likewise, when ATA v. Jordan finally terminated an ongoing court proceeding, it emphatically resolved the case in ATA’s favor. I’m not sure how such a remedy should be categorized, but I cannot agree with Dr. Schreuer that it’s “much weaker” than appellate review.

I readily agree with Schreuer and Roberts on their main point: that judges and arbitrators interact in multifarious ways. My Article’s opening passage acknowledged as much, and explained that I would dwell on arbitral review because it is the most neglected facet of their relationship

Professor Roberts astutely observes that the relationship between tribunals and courts is triangular — in the sense that arbitrators tend to review judges from poor nations, but to be reviewed by judges from rich nations. What she leaves unsaid is that judges in rich nations have historically deferred to arbitrators (whether out of ideology, correct interpretation of the law, or sensitivity to cross-border competition among the arbitration elites). I would therefore predict that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the D.C. Circuit’s encroachment on arbitrators’ turf in BG v. Argentina. If not, arbitration will simply flow away from UNCITRAL tribunals sited in the U.S., toward tribunals that are governed by either ICSID or the laws of arbitration-friendly European states. But either way, if they wish to sustain their power, arbitrators should take the hint: At least some courts in rich nations are deferring less because they perceive arbitrators as overweening. A lack of internal review may lead to external review.

Although Professor Sornarajah and I share many perceptions — for instance the need for transparency –, he views me as any self-respecting revolutionary views a reformer. He cannot understand why I would wish to fix an edifice with rotten foundations, rather than to blow it up. (more…)

Chevron and the Rise of Arbitral Power: A Comment by Muthucumaraswamy Sornarajah

by Muthucumaraswamy Sornarajah

[Muthucumaraswamy Sornarajah is the CJ Koh Professor of Law, National University of Singapore and a Visiting Professor, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics.]

Michael Goldhaber’s well-argued piece on the extent of the powers that investment arbitration tribunals are arrogating to themselves is evidence of a general malaise that afflicts investment arbitration. The arbitrators have assumed powers far in excess of what states intended them to have when they made investment treaties and created a unilateral power in the investor to arbitrate disputes. Consistent with prevailing ideas generated by the Washington Consensus and its desire to bring about standards of global governance, arbitrators promoting their own self-interest went on a rampage of expansionist interpretation of treaties. Goldhaber highlights one of the most glaring instances of this neoliberal expansionism, the making of interim orders restraining a respondent state from enforcing judgments of their domestic courts made in cases involving third parties.

This phenomenon is but an aspect of a project to build up a neoliberal regime of inflexible investment protection. In the aspect of this project that Goldhaber describes, there has been an assiduous effort made by leading members of the “college of international lawyers”, entrusted the task of being bulwarks against injustice, promoting sectional interests of investors to the detriment of other values such as the protection of human rights and the environment.

The downsizing of the notion of denial of justice so that it could accommodate lesser standards enabling easy review of domestic judicial orders is a definite project that arbitrators and “highly qualified publicists” embarked upon. Arbitrators, whose legal competence is not tested or uniform, embarked on a course of review of domestic decisions. Golhaber describes these processes with competence. As he points out, while purporting not to act as appellate courts, this is precisely what the tribunals were doing. (more…)

Chevron and the Rise of Arbitral Power: A Comment by Anthea Roberts–Arbitral Power Over Domestic Courts or Arbitral Power Dependent on Domestic Courts?

by Anthea Roberts

[Anthea Roberts holds a joint appointment as a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and a Senior Lecturer in Law at the London School of Economics and will be in residence at Columbia Law School from 2013-2015.]

Michael Goldhaber has written an interesting and timely article charting the rise of international arbitrators exercising power over and with respect to domestic courts. He gives examples ranging from Chevron to Saipem to White Industries. This is an important and growing phenomenon that has not yet received adequate attention. I believe that the rise of arbitral power over domestic courts that Goldhaber describes is the first stage in what will ultimately become a longer and more contested saga about the respective powers of arbitral tribunals and domestic courts. That is because arbitral tribunals not only exercise power over domestic courts, but their own power is also dependent on domestic courts.

The power of arbitral tribunals ultimately comes down to whether their decisions will be enforced by domestic courts. While Goldhaber charts the first stage in the battle between arbitral tribunals and domestic courts where arbitrators are in the position of authority, we are likely to witness a second stage when domestic courts are asked to pass judgment on whether arbitral tribunals have exceeded their jurisdiction or violated public policy by hearing these sorts of cases or ordering certain relief. Arbitral tribunals will sit in judgment of domestic courts and domestic courts will sit in judgment of arbitral tribunals. Neither reigns supreme.

BG Group v Argentina represents an early example of this type of phenomenon. The tribunal in that case chose not to enforce the requirement in the treaty that the investor resort to the domestic courts for 18 months prior to bringing an arbitral claim. Many other tribunals adopted the same approach, often painting the issue as one of admissibility rather than jurisdiction or viewing domestic remedies as futile rendering resort to them unnecessary. But when the Court of Appeals for the District Court of Columbia was asked to enforce the resulting award, it refused to do so on the basis that the tribunal had exceeded its jurisdiction because Argentina had only consented to arbitration on certain conditions, one of which was not met.

(more…)

Chevron and the Rise of Arbitral Power: A Comment by Christoph Schreuer

by Christoph Schreuer

[Christoph Schreuer is a Professor at the Department of European, International Law and Comparative Law, University of Vienna] 

Michael Goldhaber’s erudite and well-researched article examines an important aspect of the many-sided relationship between domestic courts and investment tribunals. Other facets of this diverse relationship include the review of arbitral awards by domestic courts, anti-suit injunctions by domestic courts, the need to pursue remedies in domestic courts prior to international arbitration, the division of competences under the label of treaty claims and contract claims, fork in the road provisions, interim measures by domestic courts in support of arbitration and enforcement of awards by domestic courts. This complex relationship of courts and tribunals shows elements of competition, of obstruction, of mutual control and of support. It is startling and paradoxical because it defies any notion of a hierarchy of decision makers.

Goldhaber’s excellent analysis concentrates on two issues: antisuit injunctions by arbitral tribunals and denial of justice by domestic courts. But the potential for infringements of the international rules on investor protection by domestic courts is much wider. Practically each of the typical standards of protection contained in BITs can be violated by domestic courts and each of these violations is subject to the scrutiny of investment tribunals.

From the perspective of international law, an international review of domestic court decisions is neither new nor unusual. International judicial control over State activity has always included courts. The State’s responsibility for all types of the exercise of public authority is uncontested and is reflected in Article 4 of the ILC’s Articles on State responsibility.[1] There are good reasons for not differentiating between the different branches of government when it comes to State responsibility. This lack of differentiation is not merely designed to prevent states from hiding behind ‛independent’ organs. In real life the courts and other elements of the government interact in a way that defies the application of a separation of powers doctrine to questions of State responsibility. For example, court action to the detriment of foreign investors is often mandated by legislation.[2] Decisions of domestic courts are sometimes prompted by executive insinuations.[3]

(more…)

Chevron and the Rise of Arbitral Power: An Introduction by Michael D. Goldhaber

by Michael D. Goldhaber

[Michael D. Goldhaber serves as Senior International Correspondent and "The Global Lawyer" columnist for The American Lawyer and the ALM media group. His writes widely on human rights and corporate accountability, international arbitration, and global multiforum disputes. His e-book on Chevron will be published next year by Amazon.]

The ongoing media circus surrounding the Chevron v. Donziger trial in New York federal court makes it easy to forget that the arbitration between Chevron and Ecuador may be the main event in resolving the $19 billion environmental judgment entered against Chevron in Lago Agrio.

The unique willingness of arbitrators to check the power of a foreign judiciary came into sharp relief on Jan. 25, 2012, when the Chevron v. Ecuador tribunal issued interim orders that the Republic (including its courts) take all measures at its disposal to suspend enforcement of the judgment. The very next morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a worldwide injunction against enforcement of that same judgment by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. In a striking choice of words, the Second Circuit declined to serve as “the definitive international arbiter of the fairness and integrity of the world’s legal systems.”

Early this year, I had the privilege of moderating an NYU Law School panel titled “Arbitrators v. Judges: The Latent Tension of Investor Arbitration Rises to the Surface,” featuring some of the world’s leading arbitrators. Two weeks later I attended a Stanford Law School conference titled “Lessons From Chevron.” The Stanford Journal of Complex Litigation has published a magnificent set of conference papers — including Judith Kimerling on indigenous rights, Stacie Strong on 1782 discovery, Howard Erichson on forum shopping, Manuel Gomez on international enforcement, Chris Whytock on transnational litigation, and Catherine Rogers on global legal ethics. Full text may be found online here.

I was struck at Stanford by how odd arbitration appears to U.S. scholars, who are mostly stunned by powers that arbitrators take as elemental. I was struck at NYU by the lack of a framework, within the arbitration community, to analyze the growing exercise of authority over national courts by investment arbitrators.

My resulting article — “The Rise of Arbitral Power Over Domestic Courts – will be the subject this week of an Opinio Juris mini-symposium. As geography is no object online, the three distinguished commenters represent three continents and an equally wide range of opinion. Christoph Schreuer of Vienna is an eminent arbitrator, perhaps best known for the Chevron precursor of Saipem v. Bangladesh, and a prolific scholar, perhaps best known for the definitive commentary on the ICSID Convention. Anthea Roberts of Columbia Law School, by way of Australia, is widely hailed as one of the brightest young stars in arbitration scholarship. Muthucumaraswamy Sornarajah of National University of Singapore is among the most eloquent and radical critics of investor-state arbitration. I am honored by their participation…

Book Symposium The Electronic Silk Road: Reply by Anupam Chander

by Anupam Chander

[Anupam Chander is Professor of Law at The University of California, Davis]

I am honored to have such a brilliant and prominent set of interlocutors from across the world discussing my book, The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce. I am grateful for the sharp insights each of my commentators brings, and humbled by the praise they offer. Each of the commentators has selected a different aspect of the book to focus on in his or her remarks, and so I will respond to each in seriatim, chronologically.

Professor Michael Birnhack (Tel-Aviv) focuses on glocalization—the conforming of a global service to the local laws of the countries that it serves. Professor Birnhack is familiar with this phenomenon, having studied it himself in connection with the transfiguration of global copyright as it encounters local norms. Both glocalization and and its limiting principle—harmonization—are highly complicated processes. Professor Birnhack wisely observes that glocalization and harmonization are both subject to power variations across the world. This is an important insight—certain countries, industries, corporations, transnational organizations or interests are likely to hold more sway than others in determining any eventual balance between glocalization and harmonization. That would probably be true even if there were a global plebiscite, a possibility that seems quite remote. But Professor Birnhack notes that these shortcomings in the glocalization and harmonization principles I suggest do not render them unwise, as other alternatives are likely to prove worse along the metric he describes.

The University of Bern’s Mira Burri , editor with Professor Thomas Cottier of an important collection of papers on digital trade governance, elegantly describes the major shifts in international trade made possible by the Internet. Her broad perspective makes her an ideal interlocutor. She strikingly observes that “we are faced with a radically ‘messy’ governance landscape with many and overlapping institutions and actors of state and non-state nature, the effects of whose actions transcend national boundaries and cannot be neatly contained and controlled.” She characterizes the principles proposed in The Electronic Silk Road as follows: “The freeing of trade is matched by a batch of principles of regulating trade that are meant to ensure balance, provide for security and trust in cyberspace.”

I proposed that Opinio Juris invite Professor Paul Stephan (Virginia) because I admire his writing and hoped for a critical voice, and he hasn’t disappointed. (more…)

Book Symposium The Electronic Silk Road: Opportunity and Complexity Along the Electronic Silk Road

by Jake Colvin

[Jake Colvin is Vice President of Global Trade Issues at the National Foreign Trade Council.]

How is global trade different in the digital age? As Anupam Chander makes clear in his new book The Electronic Silk Road, the internet is changing who trades, what is traded, and how we trade, all of which have implications and complications for businesses, consumers and policymakers.

Upfront, his book outlines the great promise of the internet to democratize global trade.  Businesses and entrepreneurs around the world can hang a digital shingle to offer goods and services online to a global audience, and consumers and intermediary businesses have new options for tapping into information, goods and services from far away.  While Chander focuses much of his attention on what he labels net-work – functions like medical services from India and customer service operations from the Philippines that can be done anywhere with increasing ease – to illustrate the effect that the internet is having on who trades and what is traded, it is worth putting a finer point on the role that the internet is having on trade in goods.

Thanks to cloud, logistics, financial and related services that reduce the red tape associated with international transactions, small businesses and entrepreneurs can participate in global markets from an early stage on a broad scale for the first time in history.  Many of them are using the internet to sell physical things.

Take Maryland-based Kavita Shukla, who founded a company called Fenugreen that manufactures a low-cost solution to keeping produce fresh for up to four times longer.  She can connect, market and sell her product around the world thanks to services provided by companies including BigCommerce.com, Google, Intuit and UPS. The online craft marketplace Etsy reports that over 25 percent of its transactions are international.  eBay has produced several studies that quantify extraordinarily high participation of the commercial sellers that operate on its platform in the global marketplace.  The electronic silk road is a critical conduit for physical goods as well as services.

Amid this opportunity, Chander deftly highlights and makes sense of a number of issues that businesses and governments are confronting as they dig into the complexities of engaging in global trade in the digital age, (more…)

Book Symposium The Electronic Silk Road: New Trade Rules for Cross-Border Flows of Information?

by Joost Pauwelyn

[Joost Pauwelyn is Professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva]

The Electronic Silk Road is a fantastic read, literally bridging Bangalore with Silicon Valley, showing us how the activity of trade has dramatically changed and how these changes require us to think about “Trade 2.0” rules.  Prof. Chander discusses both private and public law issues, domestic and international rules.

I want to focus my comments on international trade law rules, of the WTO type, that is, the rules imposed by treaty on governments, which generally prevent governments from doing certain things (e.g. prevent them from restricting trade or enacting domestic laws that discriminate against foreigners). When discussing “rules” and the internet, internet companies get nervous: they assume that the rules will limit them and thereby limit innovation.  The rules I am talking about here are limiting what governments can do and, in general, are there to protect or enable (not restrict) internet-reliant companies.  Although Silk Road describes in detail what has changed and sets out basic principles as to how rules could respond to these changes, I was, at times, missing a level of detail allowing us to make progress on the ground.

I see two main types of governmental actions that need curtailing by trade rules. First, governments restricting the flow or storage of data across/outside their territorial borders (e.g. a country requiring that Google or Citibank store all of its data within the country, or a country stopping or censoring the flow of information/network connection coming from/going abroad).  Second, governments taking, or eavesdropping on, information stored or transferred by companies or individuals in (or even outside) their territory (e.g. a country forcing Facebook to hand over certain data or “spying” on data transferred over the internet).

Are today’s WTO rules able to reign in these two types of government interventions with the toolbox of either rules on “trade in goods” or “trade in services”? (more…)

Book Symposium The Electronic Silk Road: The Unexpected Alliance of Trade and Human Rights

by Molly Land

[Molly Land is Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law]

I’m delighted to be able to take part in this online symposium dedicated to Anupam Chander’s new book, The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce. Chander’s book masterfully brings together a set of debates about technology, privacy, and human rights to consider the pitfalls and promise of regulating Internet trade. In an accessible and engaging way, Chander reorients our thinking about the Internet by locating it firmly in the trajectory of global commerce. While attending carefully to the unique challenges posed by both digitization and networks, he persuasively demonstrates the continued vitality of established doctrines in conflict of laws, trade, and international human rights with respect to some of the most pressing problems we face today in Internet regulation.

To my mind, one of the book’s most interesting and compelling contributions is its discussion of the relationship between trade in services and human rights. Chander rightly notes that trade in goods and human rights have long been in tension with one another, as liberalization of trade is often associated with labor rights violations and other human rights abuses. Trade in services, however, might be an unexpected ally of human rights causes. Information and communication technology companies are providing services, and liberalizing the flow of those services across borders promotes human rights both directly (in the form of freedom of expression) and indirectly (in the form of greater political liberalization). Chander argues that given this relationship, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) might be considered a human rights document.

Trade law can be an ally of human rights causes in two ways, Chander argues. First, the principle of national treatment limits the extent to which states can discriminate against foreign service providers, including information services. Second, the transparency provisions of GATS could be used to require states to disclose how they are regulating information goods. I think the second of these—the transparency argument—could be incredibly powerful in challenging repressive policies because it will enable advocacy and organizing. It is especially difficult for citizens to hold states accountable for their policies in the area of information and communication technology because such regulation is often invisible. To the extent trade law can be used to make some of this regulation more transparent, that would be a significant gain. This is particularly the case with respect to governments like China that use vague censorship restrictions to incentivize Internet service providers to overblock.

I was also intrigued by the argument that national treatment could be employed in service of human rights. (more…)

Book Symposium The Electronic Silk Road: Comment by Paul Stephan

by Paul Stephan

[Paul B. Stephan is the John C. Jeffries, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Law and David H. Ibbeken '71 Research Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.]

I applaud Anupam Chander for picking a great subject for his book. New communications technologies have transformed the way we deliver services by radically lowering the cost of dematerialized, long-distance transactions. The resulting explosive growth of cross-border sales of services is one of the most significant aspects of the modern global economy. There are, of course, a host of books about the Web, some silly cheerleading and some exceptionally good (my favorite is Who Controls the Internet? by my sometimes colleagues Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu). What Chander seeks to do is bring international law, and especially international economic law, into the mix. He explores how a body of rules developed three decades ago in a pre-Web world (the General Agreement on Trade in Services started in the Uruguay Round, born in 1986) can be brought to bear in the new, radically changed environment.

Much of the book describes the new face of international services. These accounts are apt and vivid. As a legal academic, however, I want more. In general I expect a careful study of a complex set of social relations either to propose a positive theory that links legal developments to social conditions with more or less rigor, or a normative vision of the world that will inspire us to correct unseen problems and cash out unrealized opportunities. I realize these categories are messy. The development of a positive analysis rests on certain normative choices, beginning with the decision to concentrate on one set of phenomena rather than another. A normative vision is incomplete without at least a rudimentary account of how we might get from here to there. But they provide a start.

I take Chander’s project to be at its heart more normative than positive. He reports on the fascinating growth of the information sector in the global economy, but he does not have a more general story about what explains this growth or how one might predict the next transformation. Rather, he wants to manage the transformation, to promote human flourishing, to expand the range of choices people can freely make, to respect local diversity, and to fight tyranny. (more…)