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The Conservation of Exhaustible Natural Resources in the GATT and WTO: Implications for the Conservation of Oil Resources

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The conservation of exhaustible natural resources constitutes a prominent linkage and one of the ongoing debates in the relationship between trade liberalization and environmental sustainability. Indeed, the recognition of this linkage was embodied as an important exception to the rules of the GATT, which justifies a violating measure related “to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources”. The trade dispute settlement tribunals have remarkable experience in handling debates concerning the application of this crucial exception. However, the various decisions that were held in these debates have not yet examined the application of the exception to the interaction between trade and the conservation of oil as an exhaustible natural resource. This paper argues that the decisions of the dispute settlement systems of the GATT and WTO have limited and narrowed the scope of conserving exhaustible natural resources within the trade regime and, most probably, they would restrict the protection of oil resources in any future dispute. This paper will examine the various decisions relating to the tensions between trade and the conservation of exhaustible natural resources. It will demonstrate that the GATT and WTO tribunals focused the discussion of conserving exhaustible natural resources on the exceptions and not on the rules, and that they narrowed the application of the trade exception. It is most likely that this approach will limit the protection of any future oil-conserving measure.

Affiliations: 1: a) Lawyer and research associate, Queen Mary University of London (Centre for Commercial Law Studies), United Kingdom ; 2: b) Senior Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary University of London (Centre for Commercial Law Studies), United Kingdom Marie Curie COFIT Senior Research Fellow World Trade Institute (University of Bern),


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