Neoliberalism and the Formal-Technical Turn

Andrew Lang

in World Trade Law after Neoliberalism

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199592647
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731396 | DOI:
Neoliberalism and the Formal-Technical Turn

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This chapter traces the impact that the rise of neoliberalism had on the institutions and practices of the international trade regime from the 1970s through to the end of the 1990s. It focuses on the ideational dimension of this transformation period in the regime's history, rather than its material underpinnings, since the latter is much better understood and described in the existing literature than the former. It suggests that at some fundamental level this transformation was a reconstitution of the way that trade professionals made sense of the world in which they worked and imagined their role within it. The chapter also charts the re-constitution of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization's (GATT/WTO) legal system from a mechanism working through the mobilization and application of diplomatic consensus through flexible norms, to one operating through the constitution, authorization, and projection of technical knowledge through formalized law. It shows how this was associated with new ideas about the purpose of the trade regime and the role of law within it. Of course, this change was neither complete nor clean — the WTO's legal system remains to some extent still subject to diplomatic control, and there are many aspects of the GATT's early legal system which still endure. Nevertheless, the aim of the chapter is to highlight the discontinuities rather than the continuities, since this helps us to see more clearly the fundamental ideational elements of the trade regime's ‘neoliberal turn’ over the last three decades of the 20th century.

Keywords: neoliberalism; international trade regime; trade regime; World Trade Organization; GATT; WTO

Chapter.  27546 words. 

Subjects: Public International Law

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