Workshop on International Law, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development

Workshop on International Law, Natural Resources and Sustainable
The WTO, Sustainable Development and Developing Countries Natural Resources: New
Wine in Old Skins
Priscilla Schwartz
School of Law, University of East London
The WTO incorporates the tenets of Principle 12 of the Rio Declaration in its founding
agreement and centrally recognises sustainable development. It seeks to protect and
preserve the environment by means relative to the needs and concerns of countries' levels
of economic development. It advertises trade as a “powerful ally of sustainable
Yet, the critical issues for the WTOs' developing members as regards their natural resources
and global trade is the recognition of the unequal development between them and the
industrialized states, the need to be able to exploit their natural resources for national
development, and managing the balance between free trade and environmental protection.
The paper presents the competing developmental and environmental issues in the WTO
regulation of resource trade and the challenges developing states face to pursue sustainable
development. It draws on relevant WTO law and practice applicable to natural resources
trade to establish that contrary to trade literature, the WTO rules undermine domestic
policy measures of developing states that could support environmental protection in natural
resource exploitation for trade. It argues that in spite of the broad recognition of
‘sustainable development’ the WTO rules promote access to the natural resources of
developing members and encourage optimal exploitation for global trade. The conclusion
proffers suggestions on aligning trade rules that favour open access and optimal
exploitation of natural resources with the environmental and developmental needs of
developing states.