JOURNAL OF BEIJING UNIVERSITY OF AERONAUTICS AND A ›› 2014, Vol. 27 ›› Issue (5): 54-62.DOI: 10.13766/j.bhsk.1008-2204.2014.0057

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Comments on Alston-Petersmann Debate on Trade and Human Rights

Li Chunlin   

  1. Law School, Fuzhou University, Fuzhou 350108, China
  • Received:2014-02-28 Online:2014-09-25 Published:2014-09-22


The relationship between trade liberalization and human rights protection has been the most controversial philosophical issue in international law since the battle in Seattle. The traditional approach presumes that trade liberalization tends to promote human rights, while the critical approach emphasizes that trade liberalization will undermine the progress in human rights protection. Petersmann has developed the theory of Rights-based Trade Constitutionalism, advocating that the relationship between trade and human rights should be constitutionalized. The Trade and Human Rights Debate took place between Alston and Petersmann with the former criticizing the theory of Trade Constitutionalism which was promulgated by the latter. This debate not only indicates the complexity in the relationship between trade and human rights, but also questions on the justification of separation between the exercise of public power and the pursuit of collective purposes in global trade governance. In the context of dominant narrative about the multilateral trade system's transformation, namely "from politics to law", both parties focus on the "institutional relation" of the Trade and Human Rights Debate rather than explore the reconstruction of knowledge structure behind the institutional transformation, therefore fail to find the solution. Being a developing socialist country with the largest population and trade volume in the world, China should transcend beyond the phenomenon of the academic debate into its essence, and be aware of the grave challenge to its own ideological safety.

Key words: trade liberalization, human rights protection, Rights-based Trade Constitutionalism, Trade and Human Rights Debate, multilateral trade system

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