Legal Ethics, Business Ethics and International Trade: Some Neglected Issues

108 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2003

See all articles by Robert W. McGee

Robert W. McGee

Fayetteville State University - Department of Accounting


The issue of ethics seldom arises in discussions involving international trade. Talks generally revolve around a particular policy or how a particular policy affects this or that sector of the economy, industry, country or region. When ethical issues are discussed, it is usually from a utilitarian perspective, since the vast majority of economists and policymakers subscribe to some form of the utilitarian ethical philosophy. They would assert that a policy is good if it results in the greatest good for the greatest number or if the good outweighs the bad. However, the utilitarian philosophy suffers from several major defects. Thus, it is also necessary to look at trade issues from nonutilitarian perspectives. This article is one of the few that attempts to do just that. This article begins with a discussion of what ethics is, which is necessary before ethical theory can be applied to trade policy. Unfortunately, not everyone can agree on how to approach ethics, so several prevailing views are discussed and analyzed. Economic sanctions are examined next, with emphasis being placed on ethical aspects of present U.S. and U.N. sanctions policy. Part IV addresses the ethics of various protectionist practices. Part V provides a thorough overview of antidumping laws, which are being used with increasing frequency to restrict or block trade rather than facilitate it. Several issues relating to the structure and implementation of antidumping laws are examined from an ethical perspective. Ethical issues involved in the subsidization of exports are examined next, followed by a discussion of other non-tariff trade barriers. Part VIII addresses what might be termed institutional immorality. This section looks at the policies and rules of various international organizations and institutions from an ethical perspective. Part IX looks at the Takings Clause of the United States Constitution in an attempt to determine whether applying the Takings doctrine to international trade might reduce some injustices. Part X offers concluding comments.

Keywords: Ethics, Trade, Protectionism, Antidumping, Sanctions, Utilitarian, Embargo, Cuba, Iraq, Taking

JEL Classification: D23, D63, D6, D7, F13, K1, K33, O24

Suggested Citation

McGee, Robert W., Legal Ethics, Business Ethics and International Trade: Some Neglected Issues. Available at SSRN: or

Robert W. McGee (Contact Author)

Fayetteville State University - Department of Accounting ( email )

Fayetteville, NC 28301
United States


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