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Book TitleInternational Trade and Human Rights: Foundations and Conceptual Issues
Book AuthorAbbott, Frederick M., Breining-Kaufmann, Christine and Cottier, Thomas (eds.)
Bibliographic InformationUniversity of Michigan Press, 2006, Pages : 384, $80.00, ISBN 0472115359

Review Title
Reviewer(s) Kinley, David

Short review

International Trade and Human Rights: Foundations and Conceptual Issues. Edited by Frederick M. Abbott, Christine Breining-Kaufmann, and Thomas Cottier. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2006. Pp. 384. $80.00.
Reviewed by David Kinley, Chair in Human Rights Law, University of Sydney Law School.
In the unremitting quest for a fair as well as effective system of international trade, human rights specialists and trade specialists have a lot to learn from each other. This book’s promise therefore to focus on “the missing link” between trade and human rights bodes well.  And certainly, in terms of authors and matters discussed, the publication brings to bear the trade perspectives on the issue, but the counterbalance of human rights perspectives – especially, and crucially, in the tranche of  contributions identified as “conceptual” (Part 1 of the book) – is disappointingly lacking. The five chapters in Part 1 usefully canvass the queries, obstacles and some conceptual road-maps of the terrain, but a number of the observations and contentions made therein cry out for amplification and debate: for example, Petersmann’s conviction not only that trade and human rights share the same goal (personal autonomy) and are both equally and symbiotically utilitarian, but also his faith in the fact that their constitutionalization is incipient and necessary; Sykes’ (fair) adumbration of human rights advocates not to focus myopically on the negatives of trade, apparently unselfconsciously issued in the midst of an essay that focuses only on the positives (typically relegating negatives to “occasional” or “narrow tensions”); and Jackson’s “amazement” that the Bush administration should sign up to a new trade regime (the FTAA) which contains so many trade and human rights linkages, no matter that US administrations of both sides of politics have long seen such regimes as adjuncts to their foreign policy (as Trachtman indeed alludes to later in the volume). Whether or not any of these positions would have prevailed robust examination would be of course a telling point, but not, one might suggest, as telling as failing to heed the need for their thorough testing and the promulgation of counter-arguments between the covers of this book in the first place.
There are two other Parts of the book, both dealing with the intersection between human rights and trade in respect of institutional and procedural aspects (Part 2) – where such human rights perspectives as the book contains are mainly to be found, and regional perspectives (Part 3), which are lopsidedly (Western) Eurocentric in focus, disturbed only by a piece on the many initiatives in the Americas, a perfunctorily descriptive piece on African initiatives and one chapter on a single (albeit important) country-perspective, the US.  Eastern Europe, South and South-East Asia, and the rest of the Asia-Pacific hardly rate mentions.  For a book on this theme  not to have any serious discussion at all of the panoply of human rights issues that stalk debates concerning international trade and Asian states in general (and China in particular), is unfortunate to say the least.
Overall, the best contributions are those that either stress the political as well as the legal and philosophical dimensions of the debate – namely, Cottier’s chapter on the rising role of governance and rule of law programs as vehicles for the promotion of human rights in the areas of both economic trade and development, and Garcia’s articulation of a “leverage model” which situates economic integration within (or at least alongside) social and political alliances; or those that raise questions as to the adjudicatory implications of linking the legal regimes that govern human rights and trade respectively: Marceau’s thorough analysis of the jurisdictional limitations and (more hesitantly) possibilities inherent in, and perceived of, the WTO legal regime; Dommen’s spotlighting of the development of economic and social rights in international human rights law and institutions and its relevance to the international trade law, and contemporaneously, Abbott’s constructive parsing of the so-called “core” rights in this category.
The aspirations of the editors and authors alike were certainly hampered by the fact that the conference from which the book’s chapters are drawn took place in 2001.  No doubt to the frustration of all, the intervening period of five years has left its mark as the whole debate has moved on somewhat. Some important events such as the Doha Declaration on Public Health are noted, but superficially so, while others, such as the crippling of the Doha Round, recent trade and human rights debates and initiatives within and about the roles of the UNDP, the World Bank and UNCTAD, as well as renewal of the EU’s General System of Preference (in 2006), are not mentioned at all (and indeed in respect of GSPs generally, there are barely two half pages (one in Marceau’s chapter, the other in Trachtman’s) in the whole book dedicated to the potentially profound possibilities for linking trade and human rights in these preferential deals).
The introductory chapter provides a readable and attentive overview of the remaining 16 chapters (two of which, incidentally – Petersmann’s and Marceau’s – together constitute almost one-third of the book’s total length), but the research utility of the volume is seriously and inexplicably marred by the absence of an index.
The book will be certain to add to the burgeoning debate on the subject-matter, of which this short review provides only a sample of the questions and points it raises, not least because of the august stable from which it emanates (being Volume 5 of the annual proceedings of the World Trade Forum).  Throughout, the editors and authors regularly and rightly allude to the need for further cross-sectoral engagement and academic endeavour in the area. The doing of such, however, might serve to expose further the instability of the Breining-Kaufmann and Foster’s introductory pronouncement that the debate has “moved beyond the stage of questioning whether the link is appropriate and legitimate”. This is far from an incontestable proposition or observation in both form and content, but to establish the matter either way you really need to bring together fully both sides of the debate.  As such it might be suggested that the ‘sunny-side up’ trade orientation of the current volume needs a little a human rights ‘easy over’ for balance.