Trade Liberalization and Human Rights: A Case Study of a Rural Region in Atlantic Canada

By Selouani, Sid-Ahmed; Hamam, Habib | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Trade Liberalization and Human Rights: A Case Study of a Rural Region in Atlantic Canada


Selouani, Sid-Ahmed, Hamam, Habib, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction:

Globalization, as defined by the United Nations (UN), consists of a multiple, complex and interrelated processes that can have dynamism of their own (OHCHR 2008). UNESCO described globalization, in a similar way, as a multidimensional phenomenon consisting of numerous complex and interrelated processes, resulting in varied and sometimes unpredictable affects (UNESCO 2003). It is noted that the globalization is not new but has, nowadays, distinctive features such as new markets, new technological tools, new institutions, and new rules that permit groups and corporations to transcend national boundaries establishing global networks that permit real-time capital exchange operating 24 hours a day (UN 2000).

Before going further, let us briefly put things in their proper historical context. The 19th century is sometimes called "The First Era of Globalization". Some researchers precisely consider the 1870-1813 as the First Era of Globalization (Obstfeld and Taylor 2004). This era is characterized by rapid growth in international trade and investment between the European imperial powers and their colonies. The First Era of Globalization broke down with the First World War, and later collapsed during the gold standard crisis in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the Post Second World War era, modern globalization was not the initiative developing countries either as they did not see in it an issue from their disfavoured economic and political situation. Thus globalization is from beginning to end the idea and the proposal of developed countries, particularly European imperial powers and later USA.

Contemporaneous globalization yields to a growing number of government policy areas that involve deep societal and economical changes on society and national governments. Many of these policies and competences that are traditionally considered as domestic policy fields are transferred to international or regional institutions and are subject to multilateral discussions, and negotiations.

One of the central elements of globalization is the trade liberalization. For many policy makers, government economists, trade liberalization creates jobs fosters economic growth and improve people's standard of living. Many people believe that free-trade is contradictory to human rights by dismantling the traditional trade barriers and the removal of domestic protections, while others believe that trade is the solution to poverty problems and the way to the prosperity. This dilemma leads many institutions, organizations to increasingly pay attention to the effects of trade liberalization on the enjoyment of human rights. In this context, in August 2001, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights of United Nations adopted two resolutions concerning trade liberalization: "Liberalization of trade in services and human rights" (UNHCHR 2001a) and "Intellectual property and human rights" (UNHCHR 2001b). Besides this, in light of the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a report treating on the human rights impacts of the liberalization of trade in services was submitted to the international community. This report focuses on the effects of liberalization of services trade on the right to health, the right to education and the right to development (UN 2002).

As illustrated in Figure 1, we believe that the right of development is inclusive of all other human rights. None could conceive the right to development without the right of education or health or life. This obvious link between human rights in general and global development constituted the focus of interest of United Nations deliberations for more than half a century. The Declaration on the Right to Development (UN 1986) states that

"the right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized"

The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, reaffirmed by consensus the right to development as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights (UN 1993).

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