What is International Trade Law for?

Forthcoming in American Journal of International Law, Vol. 113 (April 2019)

IILJ Working Paper 2018/6 (MegaReg Series)

University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-44

Dean Rusk International Center Research Paper No. 2018-08

32 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2018 Last revised: 4 Mar 2019

See all articles by Harlan Grant Cohen

Harlan Grant Cohen

University of Georgia School of Law; University of Georgia - Dean Rusk International Law Center

Date Written: December 10, 2018

Abstract

Events of the past few years, including the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and election of Donald Trump as President in the United States, have reignited debates about the global trade regime. In particular, many have begun to question whether the trade regime has done enough for those who feel left behind by globalization. While some have held fast to the view that redistribution of trade’s gains is primarily a matter of domestic policy, others have suggested tweaks to the international trade agreements aimed at better spreading the wealth.

But what if the problem isn’t policy, but principle? The major international economic institutions of the last few decades have been based on and around a normative principle of “growing the pie” and “raising all boats.” Most policy tweaks that have been suggested assume this neoliberal principle, even while trying to soften it harder edges. But it’s not clear that those voting against trade agreements agree.

This essay reconsiders the normative basis of international economic law, searching for a new narrative that can reopen and reinvigorate trade politics while justifying and directing the regime going forward. Surveying various normative narratives put forward in the past, it asks what an embedded liberalism might look like in an era of complex transnational supply chains. It suggests that an international economic order built around a state’s obligations to provide for the welfare of its people might need to reorient around other policy issues like tax and regulations, shifting trade from the driver to passenger in international negotiations.

Keywords: international law, international economics, trade, globalization, trade agreements, human rights, World Trade Organization, free trade, trade protections, tariffs, barriers, distribution of wealth

JEL Classification: K33, O19

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Harlan Grant, What is International Trade Law for? (December 10, 2018). Forthcoming in American Journal of International Law, Vol. 113 (April 2019); IILJ Working Paper 2018/6 (MegaReg Series); University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-44; Dean Rusk International Center Research Paper No. 2018-08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3298389

Harlan Grant Cohen (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

Hirsch Hall
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-5166 (Phone)

University of Georgia - Dean Rusk International Law Center ( email )

100 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602-6018
United States

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