Lawrence Herman – On the Persistence of Trade Sanctions

October 25, 2021

While governments struggle to find consensus in the lead-up to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) critical ministerial conference (MC12) at the end of November, there is a highly significant global development that won’t even be touched on at the meeting: the spread of trade embargoes and economic sanctions.

Used mostly by Western governments, these tools are aimed at combatting terrorism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, penalizing human rights abuses and environmental degradation, fighting drug trafficking and other actions by unsavoury foreign governments, companies and individuals.

In today’s fraught and increasingly fractured world order, with reduced efficacy of multilaterally-agreed rules, unilateral sanctions and embargoes have become enormously powerful state weapons, mostly on the part of Western governments. In the last couple of decades, they have proliferated and been increasingly deployed outside the authorization of intergovernmental organizations – and hence why the topic will not be on the table at MC12.