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School of Law

World Trade Organisation Law

Course Code:
Unit value:
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Term 1

In this course we explore technical aspects of the institutional and legal structure of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime as it applies to trade in goods and services, and trade-related aspects or intellectual property and investment. We also investigate ‘linkages’ and conflicts between the economic values and interests associated with trade, and other values and interests such as the protection of the environment and health. The course intersects with other courses by exploring, and giving concrete examples of, themes that recur throughout international, economic, environmental and development law. It also, uniquely among law options at SOAS, offers a deep understanding of a major international economic institution: the WTO.  The approach is practical (drawing on real life examples) critical (highlighting both the merits and limitations) and contemporary.  Extensive use is made of e-learning tools.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  •  To consider and compare the economic theory, versus social and political reality, in which trade occurs and is regulated.
  • To gain an understanding of the basic structure of the WTO institutions and texts, especially the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade GATT; and their relationship with other institutions, states and laws.
  • To examine the institutions, procedures and principles governing the settlement of trade disputes at the WTO.
  • To examine the remedies available to winners, mechanisms for their enforcement, and barriers to access to justice for developing and new Member States.
  • To consider the concept of non-discrimination, as expressed in the principles of National Treatment and the Most Favoured Nation Treatment, with special reference to the merits of differential and more favourable treatment of poorer nations.
  • To explore the protection of the environment both as an objective of, and as a challenge to, the WTO regime.
  • To explore the treatment of subsidies in the WTO, with special reference to agricultural goods, such as cotton, that are of economic importance to developed and developing countries.
  • To examine the nature and scope of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) with particular reference to its relationship with the GATT and its impact on developing countries.
  • To explore the nature and implications of efforts to protect intellectual property rights through the WTO, in particular the Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs).
  • To explore the nature and implications of efforts to prohibit trade-related investment measures, such as local content requirements, that are inconsistent with the GATT; as well the treatment of service-related investment under the GATS.

At the end of the course a student should be able to demonstrate the ability to:

  • Evaluate the place of international trade rules within the international legal and political system;
  • Critically assess the tension between law, economics and politics in an international regulatory environment;
  • Evaluate the role of WTO law within its members’ domestic legal systems;
  • Engage in current debates as to the constitution, dynamics and direction of the global economy.


Students will be expected to attend one 2 hour lecture per week for 10 weeks.

Scope and syllabus

Topics covered are likely to include:

  1. Trade theory and practice
  2. WTO texts, institutions and context
  3. Dispute settlement: Institutions, procedures, principles
  4. Dispute settlement: Remedies, enforcement, access to justice
  5. Non-discrimination
  6. Environment
  7. Subsidies
  8. Services
  9. Intellectual property rights
  10. Investment

Method of assessment

Assessment Weighting:  100% coursework (one 6,000 word essay).  Coursework may be resubmitted.

Suggested reading

A. Narlikar (2005) The World Trade Organisation: A very short introduction. Oxford: OUP.