Inspiration for Integration: Interpreting International Trade and Investment Accords for Sustainable Development

AuthorMarie-Claire Cordonier Segger
PositionSenior Director, Centre for International Sustainable Development Law
(2017) 3(1) CJCCL
Inspiration for Integration:
Interpreting International Trade
and Investment Accords for
Sustainable Development
Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger*
is article considers whether States have obligations, in international law, to proactively
integrate environmental and social considerations into economic decision-making for
sustainable development. In an era of international cooperation shaped inter-actionally
by several decades of global debate, culminating in the adoption of universal Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations, the article considers opportunities
to support sustainable development through the interpretation and implementation of
international economic treaty law and practice. In particular, the article comparatively
discusses a new generation of trade and investment treaties that explicitly mention sustainable
development as part of the object and purpose, examining approaches which can dene and
characterise the Parties’ commitments. e article briey oers considerations for a regulator,
arbitrator or jurist seeking to interpret, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on the
Law of Treaties1 (“VCLT”), a diverse range of environmental and social development
provisions that are increasingly being integrated into international economic agreements.
* Professor Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, DPhil (Oxon), MEM (Yale), LLB
& BCL (McGill) is Senior Director, Centre for International Sustainable
Development Law (CISDL); Full Professor of Law, Faculty of Environment,
University of Waterloo; Lauterpacht Centre for International Law (LCIL)
and Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance
(C-EENRG) Fellow, University of Cambridge; Executive Secretary, Climate
Law and Governance Initiative (CLGI); Rapporteur, International Law
Association Committee on Sustainable Resources Management, and author/
editor of 21 books and 140 papers on law and sustainable development.
( anks are due especially to Dr Alexandra Harrington,
Dr Markus Gehring, Prof Andrew Newcombe, and Dr Sebastien Jodoin for
their assistance and insights, and to Prof Stephen Toope for his inspiration on
inter-actional theories of legitimacy in international law.
1. 23 May 1969, 1155 UNTS 331 (entered into force 27 January 1980)
[VC LT ].
Cordonier Segger, Inspiration for Integration: Sustainable Development
I. P  “S L” R  A S 
E C  E T
II. I L R  C  A E
 S I  T  I A
A. Sustainable Development as an Interstitial Norm
B. Integration as an International Customary Norm of Relevance to
Trade and Sustainable Development
III. I T  I A  L  
I P
A. Addressing Sustainable Development Tensions in Trade and
Investment Agreements through Integration
B. Interpreting Sustainable Development Provisions in Economic
IV. C
We assume a collective responsibility to advance and strengthen the
interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development -
economic development, social development and environmental protection - at
the local, national, regional and global levels.2
When States commit to promote sustainable development in a
trade or investment treaty, or agree to conduct their economic
relations in accordance with a principle of sustainable development, the
implications of this commitment are not obvious in international law or
In recent decades, there has been extensive international treaty-making
on the protection of the environment. Many multilateral environmental
accords (“MEAs”) contain provisions to secure sustainable development
2. Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, UNWSSD (4
September 2002) UN Doc A/CONF.199/20 1 at para 5 [Johannesburg
(2017) 3(1) CJCCL
in dierent ways, across diverse elds.3 Parallel to these MEAs,
international economic treaties are being negotiated and adopted. While
it is less documented, a growing number of these accords also address
sustainable development, including in the World Trade Organisation4
(“WTO”) and an increasing range of Regional Trade Agreements5. As
the WTO Appellate Body noted in the 1998 US-Shrimp Dispute:6
[t]he preamble of the WTOAgreement — which informs not only the GATT
1994, but also the other covered agreements — explicitly acknowledges “the
objective of sustainable development”.7
e WTO also recognised in the corresponding footnote that “[t]his
concept has been generally accepted as integrating economic and social
3. Alexandre Kiss & Dinah Shelton, International Environmental Law
(Leiden, e Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2004); Patricia Birnie,
Alan Boyle & Catherine Redgwell, International Law & the Environment
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) at 106-14; Philippe Sands,
Principles of International Environmental Law (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2003) at 252-66 [Sands, Principles of International
Environmental Law]; Sumudu A Atapattu, Emerging Principles of
International Environmental Law (Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers,
2006) at 140-45; David Hunter, James Salzman & Durwood Zaelke,
International Environmental Law and Policy (New York: Foundation Press,
2002) at 19, 923.
4. Gary P Sampson, e WTO and Sustainable Development (Tokyo: United
Nations University Press, 2005); Markus W Gehring & Marie-Claire
Cordonier Segger, eds, Sustainable Development in World Trade Law
(e Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2005) at 129-52; Agreement
Establishing the World Trade Organization, 15 April 1994 1867, UNTS
154 (entered into force 1 January 15) [WTO Agreement].
5. Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, “Sustainable Development in Regional
Trade Agreements” in Lorand Bartels & Federico Ortino, eds, Regional
Trade Agreements and the WTO Legal System (Oxford: Oxford University
Press 2006) at 313-40.
6. WTO, United States: Import Prohibition of Certain Shrimp and Shrimp
Products Report of the Panel, WTO Doc WT/DS58/R (1998); WTO,
United States: Import Prohibition of Certain Shrimp and Shrimp Products
Report of the Appellate Body, WTO Doc WT/DS58/AB/R (1998) [Shrimp
Products, Appellate Body]; collectively [US-Shrimp].
7. Shrimp Products, Appellate Body ibid at n 107.

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