Protecting access to markets

Soraya Fernandez
Instituto Boliviano de Comercio Exterior

Although trade does not currently enjoy the status of a human right, it is a tool of the market that has, historically, contributed to the wellbeing of humankind. In this way, bringing goods to market is a practice inherent to human nature that should not be obstructed. The lack of the concept of a ‘right to trade’ impedes individuals and/ or firms from exercising their civil rights and the right to be free from discrimination in access to national and international markets.

If the concept of the right to trade were to exist, in the presence of government measures that prohibit trade (such as those implemented in Argentina and Bolivia in 2008), economic agents could appeal for legal protection for infringements on their constitutional right to practice trade. These bans on trade can generate economic damages of great magnitude. For example, bans on goods for export generate breaches of international contracts of purchase and sale of merchandise, negatively impacting the economy of firms.

This also can affect job creation for thousands of people who are heads of household that are responsible for the food security, and insecurity, of their dependents. An attack on the right to work is worrisome, given that this right is contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This also affects the right of entrepreneurs to invest (a right which is usually contained within the political constitutions in developing states).

In general, the lack of a concept of the right to trade has provided the opportunity for governments to infringe on the right to conduct business. This negatively affects all economic agents that participate in the chain of production. For example, it can potentially result in direct and indirect losses in the market, production and employment due to the multiplicative effects of being operators of foreign trade, producers of primary materials and inputs, transporters of national and international cargo, intermediary and end consumers, and related services such as vendors of food and clothing.

Banning the trade of a good or service might also lead to illegal trade (contraband) given that the producing firm must operate in order to comply with its business contracts, and, on the other hand, in order to be profitable and avoid bankruptcy and layoffs. It is also important to consider that all countries, without exception, practice international trade, including those socialist countries at the margin of their political ideology. This is the case in Venezuela, given that their principal market for trade is the United States. These countries protect their markets such that political-trade relations do not interfere in real terms.

The lack of a concept of the ‘right to trade’ prevents ordinary individuals (independent of their social condition, race, religion, colour or ideological precepts) from exercising their civil right to be free from discrimination in their access to markets. This type of right would provide a legal philosophical framework which could be used to urge states to guarantee the right to trade goods and services. The existence of a concept of the right to trade would require states to compensate actors for the economic and non-economic problems that emerge from trade policies that adversely affect the right to trade.

Return to 'Should trade be considered a human right?' >