The Trade and Environment Debate: The Normative and Institutional Incongruity

28 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2018 Last revised: 4 May 2018

See all articles by Simeneh K Assefa

Simeneh K Assefa

Addis Ababa University - School of Law

Date Written: April 4, 2018


Although human activities are in general said to be responsible for environmental problems, trade takes the lion’s share. The ever growing production and consumption of goods and services, the major inputs of which are natural resources, discharge of wastes and dangerous chemicals into the environment, etc. have always been major concerns. The reality has thus provoked the discussion over global concerns regarding trade related environmental issues within the UN as well as in the GATT/WTO regimes.

Although national economic self-interest and international relations dominate the trade and environment debate, there are three important convoluted factors that need to be dispelled. First, the GATT/WTO is an exclusively trade organisation that is not necessarily competent to address environmental concerns except that the GATT Art XX addresses the General Exception on human, animal and plant life and health. Second, although trade is the major category of human activity as a source of environmental problems, there are wide range of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (“MEAs”) negotiated and agreed upon outside the purview of trade institutions. And third, many of those MEAs are administered by various secretariats other than the United Nations Environmental Program (“UNEP”) or the GATT/WTO.

Many of the environment-related trade disputes are, however, raised under GATT XX and entertained by the dispute settlement bodies of the GATT/WTO with significant ramifications for concerns of the environment and the normative and institutional frameworks of the UNEP and others in this realm. This shows institutional gaps regarding the issue of trade and environment, and in effect, nations are dealing with the problem by local legislation with extra-jurisdictional trade ramifications.

Suggested Citation

Assefa, Simeneh K., The Trade and Environment Debate: The Normative and Institutional Incongruity (April 4, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Simeneh K. Assefa (Contact Author)

Addis Ababa University - School of Law ( email )

Addis Ababa

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