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The Autonomy of the States in Regulating Services Trade in Areas that Concern Their Public Morals

Devletlerin Toplumsal Ahlak Konusuna Giren Alanlarda Servis Ticaretini Düzenleme Otonomisinin Sınırları

Berna Akçalı Gür

Bu makalede uluslararası ticaret hukukunda toplumsal ahlak istisnası incelenmektedir. Bu bağlamda, ABD-Kumar uyuşmazlığı Dünya Ticaret Örgütü (DTÖ) bünyesinde, toplumsal ahlak istisnasının ticaretin özgürleştirilmesine ilişkin taahhütlere ulusal kısıtlamalar getirilmesine gerekçe olarak toplumsal ahlakın öne sürüldüğü ilk uyuşmazlık olarak ana veri kaynağı olarak kullanılmaktadır. Bu uyuşmazlığın detayları ve incelemesi, DTÖ’nün, bir taraftan, üye devletlerin toplumsal ahlak değerlerinin korunmasına ilişkin haklarını onaylarken diğer taraftan getirilen kısıtlamaların sadece ticaretin özgürleştirilmesine ilişkin taahhütlerine aykırı uygulamalarına bir kılıf olarak mı ileri sürüldüğünü doğru olarak değerlendirmesinin güçlüğünü ortaya koymaktadır. Bu zorluk şüphesiz ki toplumsal ahlak kavramının tanımının belirsizliğinden de kaynaklanmaktadır. Bu makalede incelenen verilere bağlı olarak varılan sonuca göre, devletlerin toplumsal ahlak alanına giren hususları düzenleme otonomisi ve toplumsal ahlak kavramının tanımın belirsizliği uluslararası ticaret rejimlerinin yapılandırılmasına ilişkin olarak temel sorunlara işaret etmemektedir.

Toplumsal Ahlak, Uluslararası Ticaret Hukuku, DTÖ, ABD-Kumar, İnternet Kumarı.

In this article, the public morals exception in international trade law is examined, primarily via the example of the US-Gambling case, the first World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute in which a public morals exception was invoked as a justification for national restrictions placed on trade liberalization commitments. The details of this case and its analysis strikingly display the WTO courts’ challenging task in upholding a nation’s right to protect its public morals while assessing correctly whether relevant restrictions are invoked merely to disguise restrictive measures in violation of their trade liberalization commitments, given the indeterminacy of the public morals concept. This article concludes that the scope of the autonomy of the states in regulating services trade in areas that concern their public morals and the indeterminacy of the public morals exceptions in supranational trade regimes does not reveal fundamental flaws in the design of those regimes as they apply to trade in services with reference to their experiences with cross-border provision of online gambling services.

Public Morals, International Trade Law, WTO, US-Gambling, Online Gambling.


Gambling services had been largely ignored as an item of cross-border trade on the international platform until developments in Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) led to the formation of a global online gambling market in the mid-1990s. In the same manner, the public morals clause remained dormant and undefined in international trade for almost 60 years1 until 2004, the year that the cross-border provision of online gambling services became the subject of a high profile dispute: US-Gambling2,3. The significance of this dispute was that it was not only the first but also probably the most publicized example of the increasing instances of trade liberalization and public morals appearing, "in a position of opposition4". In this dispute the primary challenge for the WTO judicial bodies was to assess correctly whether public morals exception was being used to disguise restrictive measures or was being legitimately claimed. The significance of this differentiation is that the risk of systematic failure in the assessments of similar disputes would undermine the purpose of establishing the WTO trade system: promotion and advancement of trade liberalization.

This article primarily treats US-Gambling as a case study to observe whether the WTO judicial process has been effective in protecting primary treaty objectives, in the light of the inevitable public morals divergences, indeterminacy of the morals concept and possible exploitation of the morals exception. The subject ruling was the first example for such disputes and sheds light on judicial interpretation of the relevant provisions and the applicable review mechanisms. These in turn reveal WTO's perspective on the limits of state autonomy in regulating areas where national control is considered essential to maintain public order and to protect public morals, but which are otherwise subjects of international trade.

In the second section of this article, the relevant GATS principles are presented. In the third section the timeline for the US-Gambling dispute is briefly introduced. These two informative sections are crucial in understanding the analysis of US-Gambling, the dispute constituting the main subject of analysis of this chapter. In the following three sections Antigua and Barbuda's (Antigua) claim against the United States of America (US) and both the Panel's and the Appellate Body's rulings on the case are analysed. This is followed by a description of the events regarding the implementation of the rulings. The goal of these sections is to provide an account of the incident that initiated the webs of dialogue5 among the major actors on an international level. The last section provides a discussion of the data and offers conclusions.