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Law, Trade and Geopolitics


Module description

Global trade is in crisis. The Donald Trump era saw him tear up Free Trade Agreements in the Americas, hobble the World Trade Organization and consistently attack the EU. The Biden Administration is pursuing a more co-operative policy but, at the same time, China is developing its own particular approach to trade in Africa and in the countries impacted by the Silk Road project. Geopolitics now plays its important part in the global trade system and has further complicated a series of conflicts centred around tension between the efficiency and the legitimacy of the global trade system.

In this module, we will trace the contours of the global trade system and ask whether it is a product of geopolitics (conflict) or cooperation (economic constitutionalism).

Indicative module syllabus

  • What are the institutional elements of the global trade system? (sketching out the changing institutional
  • landscape)
  • The historical settlement: international trade as economic constitution
  • Economics as science/Law as economic law
  • Risk regulation as neutral organising construct?
  • Governance as substitute for democracy
  • The legitimacy conundrum: social and developmental justice undone?
  • The Trump effect: ‘free markets’ (NAFTA)
  • The China effect: the Silk Road/developmental approach (Africa)
  • The super trade agreements
  • The future: just world trade?

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • identify and critically assess the main institutional components of the global trade system
  • understand the efforts to ‘constitutionalise’ global trade law since the 1990s
  • engage in critical and comparative analysis of economic law and economic constitutionalism as disciplines
  • understand, assess and critique the growing trend to the geopolitics of trade
  • think critically about the role of law in the evolution of structures to enable global trade
  • understand interdisciplinarity and its limits.