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In a series of controversial 2011 decisions, WTO DSM Panels sought to reconcile legitimate regulatory interests of the state with various obligations to treat imported products in an even-handed and not unnecessarily trade-restrictive manner. Among the key points of contention were which obligation pertained in each case – national treatment, limits on technical regulations, or rules governing standards. In each case, the Panel imposed significant restrictions on national regulatory practices, and in each case the Panel reasoning was challenged by the Appellate Body. This paper addresses some of the key legal and economic issues raised in the original Panel decisions, leaving the late-breaking Appellate Body decisions for future analysis. Given the unsettled nature of the terrain, the economic analysis focuses primarily on the question of national treatment, while the legal analysis deals with other interesting points that emerge from these rulings, such as the appropriate level of deference to international standards and the legitimacy of labeling requirements.
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