Cultural diversity

Publications and Studies

"Promouvoir les préférences collectives à l’OMC et au-delà de l’OMC : Coexistence entre politiques publiques et ouverture des échanges - Y a-t-il du bon protectionnisme?"

M. Pascal Lamy, Commissaire européen au Commerce, Bruxelles, le 5 mars 2004 - 2004/03/05

How can we organize market opening in such a way as to uphold the varying collective preferences of different societies? How would we devise a trade system combining openness, universal acceptance, and adequate safeguards for social choices? Mr. Lamy provides some answers to these questions during his speech at the Greens/European Free Alliance conference, which was held at the European Parliament in Brussels on March 5, 2004.  He stated, “Public policy is the expression of a particular country's social choices. Increasingly, trade in goods and services embodies these choices, making international trade today the point at which different collective preference systems intersect. These systems reflect the values of a given society.” And for the European Union, the environment, food security, cultural diversity, public education and health care provision, social entitlements are collective preferences that they intend to promote.
However, Mr. Lamy recognizes that while meshing collective preferences with the goods and services that are traded is fundamentally positive and a source of mutual enrichment, it can also raise compatibility issues.  He believes the question that arises in the WTO and other international regulatory bodies is therefore how to construct a system of global governance that rests on a foundation of universal collective preferences while still leaving each society enough leeway to safeguard its own particular collective preferences. He feels that the WTO reconciles market opening with collective preferences, since its rules “allow States considerable leeway in adopting rules that derogate from market opening on public health, public order, morality, environmental, or national security grounds.”  In addition, WTO rulings confirms this “wider scope for imposing barriers to trade in pursuit of objectives enshrined in international agreements, even those to which not all WTO members may be party.”
However, he recognizes, “the scope of these rules is not always terribly clear and case law in this field, positive as it is, is both incomplete and subject to interpretation.” To accomplish this, he maintains, we must “promote collective preferences at the WTO and beyond,” since he believes, “It is not the WTO's job to regulate everything under the sun; the regulatory dimension requires a strengthening of the other pillars of global governance as well, and the WTO then has to respect the rules they lay down. So what should be the relationship between the WTO's essentially commercial raison d'être, however open to a measure of collective preference, and rules set forth in other fora?” (Available in French only)