Trade Law

Aoife O’Donoghue

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:
Trade Law


Trade law may be defined as the law that regulates the flow of goods and services between and across states, regional trade areas, or trade regions. More often, what is being referred to is international trade law, which is characterized by a large number of multilateral and bilateral treaties, customary international law, and an increasing corpus of case law as well as academic literature. Historically, the main body of trade law emerged from bilateral trade agreements, which incorporated other areas of international economic law, such as investment law, but in the post–World War II era multilateral treaties have become more common. An aspect of their development is the establishment of regional trade areas among a number of states within a particular region. The most common features of trade treaties include most-favored nation and national treatment clauses. The most significant multilateral agreement is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), signed in 1947, which is the precursor of the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO was established in 1995 and is the only global trade organization. Along with GATT, the WTO now incorporates several treaties, including the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The WTO established an institutional structure for its members and a compulsory dispute-settlement mechanism. It integrates a continuous system of reform and negotiations known as trade rounds; the Doha Development Round is underway. Regional trade agreements are another significant aspect of trade law. The most highly developed examples of such agreements are the treaties establishing the European Union, the only regional trade area that is itself a member of the WTO. Regional trade agreements vary greatly. Some are free trade areas, which eliminate tariffs and import quotas between participating members. Other regional trade areas are more integrated and are referred to as customs unions, because they combine a free trade area with a common external tariff and trade policy. Several significant regional trade areas include the free trade area established by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); the free trade area established by an agreement between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM; see Caribbean Community Secretariat, cited under Websites) and the Dominican Republic; the free trade area comprising nineteen states established by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA; cited under Websites); the Association of Southeastern Nations Free Trade Area (ASEAN AFTA); the liberalization of trade of members provided by the Customs Union between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus (cited under Websites); the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA); and the free trade area between the Argentine Republic, the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Republic of Paraguay, and the Eastern Republic of Uruguay established by Mercosur (Southern Common Market; cited under Websites), among several others. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development(UNCTAD); cited under Data Sources: Online), established in 1964, is also heavily involved in trade law.

Article.  8833 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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