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Consumer preferences and the National Treatment Principle: emerging environmental regulations prompt a new look at an old problem

Emily Barrett Lydgate

World Trade Review, 2011, vol. 10, issue 2, 165-188

Abstract: Should consumers' preference for ‘green’ products help justify, from a WTO perspective, emerging regulations such as restrictions on trade in non-sustainable biofuels? Despite the role consumer preferences have played in WTO disputes, in association with the ‘like’ products concept, there has not been enough focused examination of their specific influence, particularly in disputes on ethical public policy issues, such as environmental or health regulations. To this end, this paper examines key GATT Article III disputes, pointing out that they included attempts both to measure, and also to interpret, consumer preferences. The latter approach becomes more tempting when consumer preferences are difficult to measure; import bans or restrictions associated with ethical public policy regulations can bring about such a situation. A hypothetical dispute about EC biofuels sustainability criteria demonstrates this problem. Options to make the concept of consumer preferences more coherent include limitations on how they can be invoked, and an increased commitment to capturing them through measurement.

Date: 2011
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