Trade and Human Rights

By Howell, Llewellyn D. | USA TODAY, May 1994 | Go to article overview

Trade and Human Rights


Howell, Llewellyn D., USA TODAY


The formula is a relatively simple one. Start with the now seemingly global concept of "export or die." To export means to compete. To gain any competitive advantage, there has to be an atmosphere conducive to innovation and experimentation. New and different ideas arise in circumstances of individual freedom. An enduring presence of individual freedom only is guaranteed by the existence of a human rights regime consistent in its allowance of all sorts of inventiveness. If human rights are limited, inventiveness is lowered or disappears and competitiveness diminishes, export capability wilts, the economy stagnates, purchasing power decreases, and even imports are reduced. Since trade is a two-way street, it may be argued that a reduction of import capability by one country is the business of the exporting nation. The latter, therefore, has to be concerned about the nature of its markets, including the status of human rights and the environment for creativity therein.

As with all social science theories, this one is much simplified and its individual elements are not universally true. Each is probabilistic. It is possible - though unlikely - that a country and/or economic system can survive without exports or imports. The continuing communications revolution eventually will penetrate every society thoroughly, and the desire for the better life will drive at least some of every country's economics, including trade.

Life itself is a basic human right as well as an exportable product. One of the significant inventiveness and trade arguments exists with respect to the pharmaceutical industry, where there are innumerable difficulties regarding intellectual property rights. Formulas are exported from the U.S. and imported legally and illegally by others. The pharmaceuticals themselves become exportable items with much lower prices from producers that are not subsidizing the creation process. When the pharmaceutical products are sold in competition with American-made goods, they not only undermine the latter's sales by underpricing, but also strike a blow at the process of life-extending and sometimes life-giving creativity. The most basic of human rights - life - is lost or diminished as a result of a lack of awareness of economic interdependence.

The human fights that usually are discussed in the trade context are not those of life, nourishment, and procreation. The issue is usually how the individual leads a life, not whether he or she is capable of doing so. The freedoms of speech, information, belief, and movement are the ones brought forth most frequently - the rights that precisely underlie economic creativity. Technology transfer is critically dependent on all of these. An individual can not be exposed to the scientific method and then apply it to the creation of pharmaceuticals, but not have it applied in the analysis of political processes or religious beliefs. The logic of management for a firm also will be applied to management of a society. How can the customer be distinguished from the citizen? If the customer is always right, isn't the corollary that the citizen is always right? …

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