Unilateralism and protectionism in
the World Trade Organization:
the interpretation of the chapeau
within GATT Article XX
Philip Joseph Wells
The School of Law, The University of Shefeld, Shefeld, UK
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide a holistic and cohesive overview of the development
of GATT, Article XX; critically focussing, in particular, on whether the interpretation of the provision
permits developed member states to embark on unilateral and protectionist actions.
Design/methodology/approach – The methodology for this paper was to assess and review the
developing jurisprudence of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that relates to the use of Article XX.
The paper adopts a chronological critique to analyse the development of the law; included in this is
academic theory that underpins and proffers an explanation for the development.
Findings – This paper suggests that while Article XX exists as a potential target to permit unilateral
action by developed nations, it does not create a guise for unilateralism and protectionism due to the
interpretation afforded to the “Chapeau”.
Practical implications – The paper demonstrates an expansive collection of WTO jurisprudence
and case authorities to illustrate the overarching interpretation of Article XX; in doing so, it allows those
associated with the WTO to gain a practical overview of the holistic workings of Article XX.
Social implications – Through demonstration of Article XX, and its interpretation, this paper
outlines the social values and norms most likely to enjoy a privileged status to override WTO
obligations. This paper also espouses what social values may develop in the future to be classied
within Article XX.
Originality/value – This paper provides an original insight by considering holistically, rather than
narrowly, the interpretation of Article XX.
Keywords The World Trade Organization, WTO, International trade, Unilateralism, Protectionism,
GATT, Article XX, Interpretation, Chapeau
Paper type General review
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is recognised as a remarkable achievement by
the international community to regulate global trade in an effective and
non-discriminatory manner (Van Den Bossche, 2008, pp. 3-8) The WTO is a regulatory
entity predicated on multilateral agreements (Ala’I, 1999) and consensus-based
decision-making (Jackson, 1998) between its members. To remain a democratic and fair
system (Moore, 2013), the WTO attempts to avoid unilateralism by ensuring members
engage in multilateral negotiations rather than participating in unilateral action that is
economically inefcient and unfair (Bree, 1999;Dagne, 2007). Unilateralism, within the
context of international trade, is commonly associated with protectionism, which
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received 15 September 2013
Revised 21 April 2014
Accepted 13 July 2014
Journal of International Trade Law
Vol. 13 No. 3, 2014
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited