Chicago Journal of International Law

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Since 2013 China has introduced increasingly stringent restrictions on imports of recyclables, and those restrictions have severely limited the amount of recyclables allowed into the country. Because China plays such a large role in handling global recycling flows—including waste from the U.S.—these restrictions are likely to have enormous impacts on trade in recyclables over the long term. The restrictions are potentially vulnerable to challenge within the World Trade Organization (WTO), but challenging the restrictions could create many negative impacts and be seen as an action akin to U.S. imperialism by denying China a right to a healthy environment. The domestic Chinese recyclables trade, however, has seen a great deal of economic benefit already from these restrictions—so it seems difficult to argue that any Chinese restrictions are purely motivated by a desire for a better environment. Additionally, the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China could complicate any attempt to bring a suit. Although it is likely that the U.S. would be able to win a WTO dispute challenging the Chinese restrictions, the costs of filing a suit outweigh the benefits and the U.S. should not challenge the restrictions.

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