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Enforcing Conditionality: Human Rights and Preferential Trade Agreements


Whether human rights can be promoted and promulgated with persuasion or coercion has been much debated in the literature. But coercive measures, such as economic sanctions, for human rights purposes are often viewed with skepticism because of their inconsistent use and application. Against this backdrop, some economically dominant states have been increasingly attaching social clauses to trade agreements. These clauses stipulate standards that must be upheld if the beneficiary state is to continue to receive preferential market access.

In this dissertation I examine and quantitatively evaluate the operation of so-called "hard" law enforcement mechanisms. I ask whether the observed pattern of enforcement is consistent with a concern for human rights violations or do other factors, such as economic or strategic relationships, offer a better explanation. In particular, I focus on the operation of the US Generalized System of Preferences because it is one of the longest running trade agreements with a clearly articulated formal annual review and suspension process should a beneficiary state violate standards. Moreover, the set of eligible beneficiary countries is geographically broad.

I collect information from original source documents produced by the US Trade Representative in order to compile a unique dataset detailing enforcement proceedings over the last twenty-five years. This extensive dataset provides numerous cases of enforcement (and non-enforcement) from which I draw inferences about the factors influencing the US decision to punish violating states and thereby assess the institutional credibility of the GSP.

The extant literature on the operation of the US GSP has been qualitative in nature. This dissertation contributes by offering the first quantitative cross-country empirical assessment. I offer formal inferences, as opposed to anecdotal evidence, and in doing so I uncover new insights about the review and enforcement process. While I find that, for the most part, economic and strategic factors are an important part of the explanation for the enforcement pattern, they are not the only determining factors. The level of violations does play a role, albeit a small role at a key juncture in the review process --- a juncture that is overlooked and obscured by previous studies. In addition, I find domestic politics also plays a role, in particular, the composition of Congress.

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