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Unit information: World Trade Law in 2021/22

Unit name World Trade Law
Unit code LAWDM0115
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Gammage
Open unit status Open



There are no co-requisites for this course. However, students may find it beneficial to study the International Law of Trade and Aid module alongside the World Trading System module and should be encouraged to do so (although this is not a co-requisite).

School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This course provides an introduction into the multilateral trading system and explores the relationship between trade and development. Students will examine rules falling into four broad themes: market access, trade remedies, regulatory disciplines, and dispute settlement. The institutional framework of the treaty scheme for trade in goods set out in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and a number of the main covered agreements of the WTO will be analysed including: the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, the Agreement on Safeguards, the Agreement on Anti-Dumping and the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM) Agreement. Students will examine the scope of WTO dispute settlement procedures and sanctions that may be taken against non-compliant Members as set out in the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). Specific issues will be examined and questioned, in particular: whether ‘regionalism’ goes against the philosophy of free trade, whether trade should be free or fair (and the extent to which these ideals can be reconciled) and whether the substantive WTO rules and dispute settlement mechanisms are in practice fair to all countries. More broadly, the governance of international trade law will be situated in its wider political economy context. Students will explore the relevance of WTO law in addressing environmental disputes and promoting sustainability through the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Aims of this unit are:

  • Introduce students to the field of International Economic law
  • Examine the role of the WTO in the international legal, economic and political order
  • Assess the scope of the WTO with reference to the relevant legal agreements

An illustrative list of the topics that might be covered include:

  • Introduction to the World Trade Organisation

Dispute Settlement

  • Functions and Procedures of the Dispute Settlement Body

Market Access

  • National Treatment and MFN
  • General Exceptions to WTO rules (trade in goods only)
  • Regional trade agreements

Regulatory Disciplines

  • Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures
  • Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT)
  • Trade Remedies (safeguards, anti-dumping, subsidies)
  • Governance, Trade, and Sustainable Development
  • Agricultural Reform
  • WTO and the Environment
  • Trade Facilitation

Intended learning outcomes

The learning objectives of this course would be for students to gain an understanding of the major international economic institution and its place in the international order. Students will learn about international economic law and its growing importance as a sub-branch of international law. By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Understand the role of the WTO within the international order,
  • Interpret and analyse the legal texts of the WTO,
  • Explain the different legal rules relating to different aspects of trade e.g. goods, services, investment etc.
  • Recognise the relevance of the WTO to developing countries, and the special position of developing countries in the global economy.
  • Critically reflect upon the role of the WTO in shaping the global economic order.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a variety of asynchronous and synchronous activities.

Assessment Details

Summative: coursework assessments with a specified word count (50% each)

Formative: students should do one formative assessment (this will usually be 1 x 1500 word essay).

Reading and References

These textbooks provide the core reading for the entire course. Students will be directed to online sources, journals articles and cases where relevant to supplement the core reading. Both copies of the textbook are available in the library.

  1. Peter van den Bossche and Werner Zdouc, The Law and Policy of the World Trade Organization: Text, Cases and Materials, Third Edition (Cambridge University Press, 2013); and/or
  2. M. Matsushita et al, The World Trade Organization, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2015).