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UH Global Law and Policy for the Americas webinar examines lessons from the pandemic

April 18, 2022 – Legal scholars from around the world virtually convened with the University of Houston Law Center for a wide-reaching panel on “Global Challenges, Local Solutions: Supply Chains, Sustainability, and Governance,” offering insights and action steps to some of today’s pressing issues. 

The March 10th event was sponsored by UH Global Law and Policy for the Americas (GLPA), Houston Journal of International Law, and the University of Bologna Center for Latin American Studies as a follow-up discussion to last year’s GLPA six-part webinar series on Constitutionalism, Trade, Social Justice, and Sustainability in the Americas: Lessons from the 2020 Global Pandemic.

“We as a global community and as a country have faced many new challenges in dealing with the pandemic. There are many lessons to be learned around global health and its impact on other areas of law,” said Elizabeth Trujillo, the Mary Ann & Lawrence E. Faust Professor of Law at the UH Law Center and Founding Director of GLPA.  Professor Trujillo stressed the need for closer examination of the intricate relationship between global and local policies in addressing these challenges so that solutions may be better coordinated among various levels of government world-wide.

“For this reason, GLPA has wanted to embark on this research on the lessons we can learn from the global pandemic for global governance and international law so we may better understand how to deal with future challenges like climate change, commerce and trade, human rights, and social justice.” 

A forthcoming Fall issue of the Houston Journal of International Law will feature research from this year and last year’s presentations, according to Editor-in-Chief Nate Green.

Roundtable 1: Supply Chains, Trade, Climate Change, and Public Health

Trade

The role of the World Trade Organization regarding vaccine distribution “has continued to evolve,” said Gabrielle Marceau, Senior Counsellor in the Research Division of the WTO Secretariat and Associate Professor at the University of Geneva.

Vaccines and their components are “all goods and services that need to cross borders,” Marceau said, creating a “trade issue” in which the WTO “became central to the debate about vaccine distribution and related issues.”

It’s “definitely a new role for the WTO trying to cope with this extraordinary situation,” she said.

Climate Change

“COVID and climate change are obviously very different, but what they have in common is that both of them are global in scope and both of them require an urgent response,” said Dan Farber, Sho Sato Professor of Law and Faculty Director at the University of California, Berkeley.

Although the nature of these two crises differs, Farber said there are some “related governance developments that are revealing about where governance is globally right now and how things are evolving.”

Supply Chains

Supply chains, which have been particularly stressed as a result of the global pandemic,  are “a significant instrument through which corporations make significant negative impacts,” said Kish Parella, Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, outlining different means of supply chain regulation.  

Mandatory information disclosure “requires that companies tell us what they do or don’t do. It doesn’t specifically require companies to do any particular thing,” she said.

“In contrast, mandatory due diligence requires companies take specific steps,” offering “a means to level the field within sectors and across sectors regarding expectations for the environment and human rights.”

Public Health

“Health is a multidimensional issue by nature that depends on a series of determinants,” said
Pedro Villarreal, Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law.

Public health measures adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic were “necessary, especially in the first stages of the pandemic,” Villarreal said. But they carried a socioeconomic and mental health toll, too.

“Keeping in mind these limitations, the question that remains is, ‘What is left for a global response to a pandemic, particularly to future pandemics that may look different to COVID-19?”

In sum, the challenges in managing the spread of COVID-19 have translated into multiple impacts on various aspects of commercial law, says Professor Trujillo.  They also demonstrate the need for stronger international collaboration for future global challenges, such as climate change and public health.

Roundtable 2: Governance, Comparative Constitutionalism, and Social Justice

Governance

“Democracies innovate, they come up with new ideas,” said Tom Ginsburg, Leo Spitz Professor of International Law at the University of Chicago Law School. “But then what we see in governance is that authoritarian regimes sometimes try to dilute [these ideas] and repurpose them for their own political survival.”
“The approach to international law is significantly related to the kind of regime, as the Russian case proves”.

Comparative Constitutionalism

Transformative constitutionalism in Latin America, defined as efforts to use “public law to achieve democracy or transform society” has “left the notion of equality on the side,” said René Urueña, Associate Professor and Director of Research at the Universidad de Los Andes School of Law, Colombia.

The challenge of transformative constitutionalism is that it builds on “the normative premise,” that the “distribution of resources is not important.”

“Transformative constitutionalism needs to take equal inequality more seriously as a normative commitment, as a doctrinal construct, and as a cognitive framework,” he said.

Social Justice

“The pandemic shows that we have not built important social institutions in many years, not in liberal countries neither in populist,” said Alberto Abad Suárez Ávila, Professor-Researcher at the IIJ-UNAM in Mexico City.

“Inequality in the continent is very high. When you have a health system that relies on domestic private expenditure, and you have these levels of inequality, then it's easy to understand why a lot of the population has been out left out,” Suárez said.

“We didn't have the institutions to face the pandemic, so what we did was build institutions in the middle of the storm.”

In conclusion, “Constitutionalism is under threat due to the multiple crises it is facing, among which the pandemic emergency was just one of the stress tests, alongside different refugee crises, climate change, and environmental degradation. All these issues call into play one of the major principles enshrined in modern constitutions, i.e., solidarity. Its scope and reach are at stake”, said Prof. Sabrina Ragone, University of Bologna.

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