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Concepts of Fairness in the Global Trading System

By Andrew Brown and Robert Stern


In this paper, we first discuss why fairness is a condition of the agreements among governments that form the global trading system. We then suggest that fairness can best be considered within the framework of two concepts: equality of opportunity and distributive equity. We observe that the efficiency criterion is not a primary yardstick of fairness, and though it is relevant in choosing among alternative ways of realizing fairness, it is not without its own limitations. We thereafter discuss what equality of opportunity and distributive equity mean when applied to the commitments that governments make in the global trading system. For this purpose, we divide these commitments into four categories: those relating directly to market access; those concerning supporting rules designed to prevent cheating in market access commitments or to facilitate trade flows; those relating to procedures for the settlement of disputes or the use of trade remedy measures; and those relating to governance of the system. (We say nothing in this paper about the issue of fairness in the context of the last category.) Finally, we make some comments about fairness in the Doha Development Round, first reviewing some proposals made by Stiglitz and Charlton, and then making some observations about the central issue of market access.

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