The principle of sovereignty over natural resources and the WTO

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State sovereignty is a central principle of international law, with sovereignty over natural resources considered a fundamental expression of such state sovereignty. Sovereignty over natural resources is itself recognised as a principle of customary international law. There is no explicit reference to sovereignty over natural resources within the WTO-covered agreements. Nonetheless, the principle has been used as an aid to interpretation by WTO panels in two disputes; namely China – Raw Materials and China – Rare Earths. This chapter evaluates both disputes with a view to ascertaining more fully the relevance of the principle to WTO law. It further offers insights from the literature on certain of the more troubling aspects of this jurisprudence.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia on Trade and Environmental Law
EditorsP Delimatsis , L Reins
Place of PublicationCheltenham, UK
Number of pages9
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 7 Sep 2021

Publication series

NameElgar Encyclopedia of Environmental Law
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing


  • trade
  • environment
  • exhaustible natural resources
  • exceptions
  • permanent sovereignty over natural resources


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