Beyond Eco-Imperialism: An Environmental Justice Critique of Free Trade

39 Pages Posted: 23 May 2007 Last revised: 24 Jun 2014

See all articles by Carmen G. Gonzalez

Carmen G. Gonzalez

Loyola University Chicago School of Law


The article contributes to the trade and environment literature by assessing the claim that industrialized country proposals to integrate environmental protection into the WTO trade regime constitute environmental imperialism - the imposition of industrialized country values and preferences on less powerful nations. This claim is usually based on two distinct premises. The first is that environmental protection is a luxury that poor countries can ill afford. The second is that wealthy countries have played a leadership role in the protection of the global environment. The article questions these assumptions. It argues that environmental protection is essential to well-being of the poor, and that wealthy countries have achieved economic prosperity by shifting environmental degradation to the global commons and to the developing world. The article re-defines environmental imperialism as the over-utilization of the world's limited pool of natural resources and waste sinks. It concludes that the industrialized world has indeed engaged in environmental imperialism and that trade liberalization threatens to accelerate this process. Developing countries are therefore justified in asserting that environmental trade restrictions are hypocritical in light of developed countries' failure to address their own far more ecologically damaging behavior. The article proposes several legal strategies designed to scale back industrialized countries' over-consumption of the world's resources and to support grassroots resistance to environmental degradation. The article calls for close scrutiny of proposals to reconcile trade and environment to make sure that they promote environmental justice and do not merely reinforce industrialized countries' economic and political dominance.

Keywords: WTO, environmental justice, environmental law, international trade, development law

JEL Classification: K32, K33, F18, Q56

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Carmen G., Beyond Eco-Imperialism: An Environmental Justice Critique of Free Trade. Denver University Law Review, Vol. 78, p. 981, 2001, Available at SSRN:

Carmen G. Gonzalez (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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