Conflict of Laws as Constitutional Form: Reflections on International Trade Law and the Biotech Panel Report

RECON Working Paper No. 2007/03

19 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2012

See all articles by Christian Joerges

Christian Joerges

University of Bremen - Faculty of Law; Hertie School of Governance

Date Written: May 12, 2007


Hardly anywhere is the trend towards a perfection of transnational governance arrangements and their “legalization” more visible than in international trade. Governance arrangements established through and alongside WTO law are both practically important and theoretically challenging. They do not just organise international trade relations. They also affect national and regional (European) regulatory policies partly directly, partly more indirectly. How can we explain and how should we evaluate their emergence?

The WTO system of 1994, which replaced the GATT of 1947, responded to the ever increasing importance of non-tariff barriers to trade. These barriers reflect regulatory concerns especially in the fields of health and safety, consumer and environmental protection. There importance for WTO member is such that they cannot simply be abandoned for the sake of free trade. This is why the responses the new international trade system institutionalised by special agreements concerning on-tariff barriers to free trade such as the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) reflect a politicisation of international trade. Can we conclude that international markets have been re-regulated and that international trade law ensures their “social embeddedness”?

The paper seeks yardsticks for an answer to these questions in the debates on transnational constitutionalism. It submits that constutionalisation can and should be based on a conflict-of approach. For its elaboration of this suggestion, the paper first contrasts the jurdification of transnational governance at the European and the international level. It then discusses the WTO panel report on the Biotech dispute. It concludes that the legalisation and judicialisation in that case have remained “thin.” What can be observed is a political rather than a social and legal embeddedness of markets.

Keywords: Constitutionalisation, European Governance, International Trade, Legalization, Legitimacy, Multilevel Governance, National Autonomy, Risk Regulation, Transnational Governance, WTO

Suggested Citation

Joerges, Christian, Conflict of Laws as Constitutional Form: Reflections on International Trade Law and the Biotech Panel Report (May 12, 2007). RECON Working Paper No. 2007/03. Available at SSRN: or

Christian Joerges (Contact Author)

University of Bremen - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 330440
Bremen, 28334

Hertie School of Governance ( email )

Friedrichstraße 180
Berlin, 10117

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