Volume 50 (2016) / Issue 6
Countries craft their regulations in a specific national context. When foreign exporters apply this regulation to achieve market access, it becomes subject to a global array of implementation conditions. Several World Trade Organization (WTO) disputes have ruled that regulation failed to acknowledge the conditions of foreign exporters. The WTO Appellate Body has suggested that comparing conditions or ‘situations’ is part of not discriminating between foreign and domestic products, but the implications remain vague. In fact, pulling too hard on this thread could unravel the non-discrimination principle as it leads to its inherent contradiction: regulation will never treat all trade partners exactly the same precisely because of their diverse conditions. Further, suggesting that it should put a huge undue burden on regulators: deep integration run amok. Key WTO environment and development controversies centre on how to acknowledge differences between countries’ situations and still achieve the formal equality that the system promises. The case law on situational discrimination feeds into these debates. This article proposes that the focus should be on how different situations influence the comparative effectiveness of a regulation in meeting its goal, an approach which delimits and clarifies.
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