Monday, January 25, 2010

Is WTO softening its posture toward human rights or is it looking for a mission?

An unwritten policy of the World Trade Organization (WTO) – that trade and human rights don’t mix – may become outdated before too long. At least, that’s a tentative conclusion that you might draw from a January 13 speech by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy.

The headline of the WT0 press release summarized Lamy’s remarks this way: “Lamy calls for mindset change to align trade and human rights.”
Lamy expressed the point in two sentences toward the end of his text:

“It is our responsibility to coordinate our actions in a meaningful and efficient manner to ensure that trade does not impair human rights, but rather strengthens them. I am aware of the challenge that this represents, of the change in mindset this requires.”
Lamy was not specific about the policy changes a new mindset would involve. Rather, he spoke in general about the ways trade can be “a positive vector for reinforcement of human rights.” For example:
“To be successful, the opening of markets require solid social policies to redistribute wealth or provide safeguards to the men and women whose living conditions have been disrupted by evolving trade rules and trade patterns.”
Lamy’s topic was “Toward Shared Responsibility and Greater Coherence: Human Rights, Trade, and Macroeconomic Policy” at a three-day colloquium sponsored by two Geneva-based organizations, the International Council on Human Rights Policy and Realizing Rights.
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Actually, the WTO is already much more involved in human rights than Mr. Lamy acknowledges. For the details, read my blog article, “Imbedded in WTO: Human Rights for Some,” at

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