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The regulation of international trade is both a driver and a result of economic globalization. Under the law of the World Trade Organization (WTO), governments agree to liberalise trade, refrain from discriminating between like products from foreign countries, harmonise certain regulatory frameworks, and resolve trade disputes. These laws impact significantly on social and environmental policies.
This subject is designed to provide students with an applied understanding of the law of the World Trade Organization as it operates in real-world social and political context. While developing a sophisticated understanding of the historical and theoretical fundamentals of WTO law and dispute settlement, students also continually reflect upon the relationship between WTO rules and other values, such as environmental protection and human rights.
Topics include an historical introduction to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization, an analysis of core WTO principles in goods and services and a consideration of the non-economic exceptions to WTO obligations. This requires an indepth engagement with WTO legal agreements and Appellate Body case-law. Based on this knowledge of substantive WTO Law, students examine the WTO dispute settlement system, including its relationship with other parts of the international legal system. A range of more specialized subjects in trade law may in any given year include the regulation of product standards (ie to harmonize labeling and other requirements), the use of sanitary and phytosanitary measures (ie rules on food safety and pests in contexts such as the use of genetically modified organisms), trade policy instruments used by governments to protect domestic industries, subsidies and 'trade remedies'. Major challenges and reform efforts in international trade law, including the stalled Doha round of negotiations, may also be considered.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will have an advanced understanding of, and be able to critically analyse and reflect on, a range of trade law problems and issues confronting member countries and individuals.
- Obtain a deep and nuanced understanding of the historical and theoretical influences on the development of international trade law;
- Develop mastery of the fundamental principles of the World Trade Organization, including the principle of Most-Favoured Nation Treatment (MFN), national treatment, as well as social and political exceptions to these principles;
- Have advanced knowledge of the dispute settlement system of the WTO, as well as high-level understanding of the relevance of the Appellate Body in broader international context;
- Have advanced and specialized knowledge of the impact of trade agreements in selected critical and topical social issues, such as the import of genetically modified food or the protection of fossil fuel industries through subsidy programs;
- Demonstrate mastery of the fundamental principles of trade law in an applied context (including by advising on hypothetical problems posed in an exam setting) or in a more theoretical setting (in a research paper);
- Develop advanced oral and written communication skills that draw upon diverse international legal materials, and be able to find, evaluate and apply primary and secondary sources to issues of international trade law; and
- Be able to critically evaluate the role of expertise and the international legal professional in the WTO diplomatic and legal context.
On successful completion of the subject students will have developed and demonstrated:
- Advanced and specialized skills in reading, comprehending and interpreting the legal agreements of the World Trade Organization and panel and Appellate Body reports;
- Advanced technical skills in treaty interpretation (extending skills developed in Principles of Public Law);
- An advanced capacity for critical and independent thought and reflection, in particular on the impact of trade law on sensitive domestic or global issues of social and political concern;
- Mastery of theoretical knowledge and demonstrated ability to critically reflect on theory and professional practice;
- Cognitive, creative and communication skills to critically investigate, analyse and present complex information, concepts and theories in the context of a standalone assessment exercise;
- An expanded capacity for independent time management and self-directed legal research/exam preparation requiring familiarity and mastery of complex international legal materials (including interdisciplinary materials);
- An ability to critically evaluate the demands and justifications of the entrenchment of norms in the context of economic globalization and global governance; and
- An awareness of the value of collaborative learning in a participatory seminar style teaching environment.
Last updated: 4 September 2021