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Justified Border Closures do not violate the International Health Regulations 2005

Rapidly developing pandemics require governments to use their best endeavours to protect their populations.  International law permits them to do this provided they observe certain conditions, but limits on the reach of the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR) have previously been insufficiently appreciated. In mid-February 2020 The Lancet published a piece by 16 health professionals taking the view that countries were breaching the IHR in closing their borders to travellers from locations including China, the source country of COVID-19, contrary to WHO advice.  A similar view was published in Science in March.  That conclusion cannot be correct.  Article 43 of the IHR clearly leaves room for action going beyond that recommended by the WHO, consistent with respect for States’ sovereign rights (IHR Art 3.4), in appropriate circumstances.  Parallels with the World Trade Organisation Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) reinforce this point, as seen below.  Formal clarification of the matter could potentially take place in connection with the review of the IHR’s functioning as…

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Are COVID-19 Related Trade Restrictions WTO-Consistent?

Countries dealing with the economic and public health-related impacts of COVID-19 have adopted a markedly nationalist approach to their response. More than 80 governments have placed restrictions of some sort (with many of those being notified to the WTO Secretariat) on the export of personal protective equipment and medication necessary to treat those affected by the…

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The Scorecard of the Phase One Trade Agreement

  The United States President and the Chinese Vice Prime Minister signed a deal dubbed as the “Phase One Trade Agreement” (“the Agreement”) on January 15, 2020. The Agreement withholds further escalation of the on-and-off trade war, which has dragged on for over 18 months between the US and China. The Agreement will likely lay a…

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Who controls WTO dispute settlement? Reflections on the Appellate Body’s crisis from a socio-professional perspective

  Last month marked a crucial moment in the history of the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s dispute settlement system. On 10 December 2019, the terms of office of Appellate Body (AB) members Ujal Bhatia and Thomas Graham came to an end, thereby leaving the World Trade Court without the minimum complement of adjudicators necessary to carry out its…

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Living in the Shadow of Flawed Peace: How General International Law Is Implicated in the Trade War between Japan and South Korea

As the anniversary of V-J Day approaches, the legacy of World War II still casts a long shadow on its previous Pacific theatre.  Last month, an unprecedented quadripartite incident involving warplanes from, inter alia, Japan and South Korea played out in the territorial airspace of the contested Dokdo/Takeshima islands, disputed territory that was left unresolved in the…

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