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Sustainability of international trade law: the legality of unilateral trade measures for environmental protection in the GATT/WTO framework

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Notwithstanding the intensified trade liberalisation that catalyses economic globalisation, the materialistic foundation of free trade is being changed by issues such as environmental degradation and global climate change. While many believe it is agreeable to seek a balance between trade and the environment, the GATT/WTO as an international law regime governing the multilateral trading system should further ensure the smooth execution of the law to facilitate environmental protection efforts by governments worldwide. In the context of promoting free trade, justifying the unilateral trade measures relating to environmental purposes, including import restrictions/prohibitions, licensing systems and environmental levies, it is one of the instruments which the WTO could employ to achieve the objective of sustainable development as stated in its preamble. Focusing on the evolving constructions of relevant provisions, this paper is to study the recent dispute cases of the legality of these trade–related measures aimed at protecting the environment in GATT/WTO jurisprudence and hence, arriving at the conclusion that the concept of sustainable development is only to some extent implemented by international trade law.

Keywords: sustainable development, WTO, World Trade Organisation, GATT, unilateral trade measures, international trade law, environmental protection, legality, sustainability, trade liberalisation, free trade, environmental degradation, global climate change, green economics

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