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Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

Beyond the Divide: The covenant on economic, social and cultural rights and the World Trade Organization

Robert Howse and Ruti G. Teitel

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

Dialogue on Globalization, Number 30

April 2007

SARPN acknowledges the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung as the source of this document:
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Executive summary

The legal, institutional and policy cultures of international human rights law and of international trade, fi nancial and investment law have developed largely in isolation from one another. At the same time, as a matter of international law, both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Economic Rights (ICESCR) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are, in the first instance, treaty regimes.

Treaty norms in the ICESCR have an equal legal status to those in the WTO. A large majority of states are signatories to both the core WTO treaties (the so-called Covered Agreements) and the ICESCR. Reconstructing globalization on the basis of a human rights consciousness, and in particular with a view to fully realizing the vision of the ICESCR is a daunting task, which would need to engage many policy disciplines and many institutions. A short to medium term strategy is needed to identify some fairly precise and specific interconnections between the legal concepts and doctrines in the treaty texts of both regimes.

As international lawyers whose collective expertise extends across both regimes, the authors conceive the challenge as a legal question of the interaction of treaty norms. The authors focus on those aspects of economic, social and cultural rights that are most directly linked to human security, a fundamental value also acknowledged in various ways in the WTO Agreements and their interpretation. Accordingly, they examine aspects of the right to work, the right to health and the right to food and the impact of WTO rules and their interpretation.

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