The Sociology of International Economic Law: Sociological Analysis of the Regulation of Regional Agreements in the World Trading System
Posted: 30 Jun 2008
Date Written: April 2008
International economic law (IEL) is influenced by diverse theoretical approaches. This article emphasizes that international economic activity is a social phenomenon and international trade should also be conceived as a specific type of social interaction. The scarcity of sociological analysis in contemporary IEL literature does not diminish the influence of social factors that are active in the under-explored layer of the international economic arena. Sociological analysis may recast well-known dilemmas in a different manner and generate insights regarding better legal mechanisms for coping with modern challenges faced by IEL. These properties of sociological analysis are illustrated in this article, which addresses one of the most challenging dilemmas in current IEL literature: the relationship between the World Trade Organization (WTO) and regional trade agreements (RTAs). The underlying argument of this article is that the economic dimension of RTAs is overlaid with a sociological dimension. Consequently, the global/regional debate is analysed with new conceptual tools: sociological theories, mainly the structural-functional perspective, the symbolic-interactionist approach, and the social conflict perspective. The core sociological theories lead to different conceptions of IEL and different interpretations of existing WTO legal provisions regarding RTAs. This article argues that while each of the above sociological approaches underscores certain significant aspects of the global/regional debate, the symbolic-interactionist perspective should generally serve as a point of departure for law- and policy-making in this sphere. This approach suggests that the relevant WTO legal rules should be interpreted in a liberal manner.
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