UCL Faculty of Laws


Law of the World Trade Organisation (LAWS0048)

WTO law regulates trade relations and dispute settlement between States, and addresses the complex interaction between international trade liberalisation and other public policy objectives.


The aim of this module is to provide students with an advanced knowledge and critical understanding of the regulatory framework underpinning the multilateral trading system, covering both the institutional and substantive law of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which has played a central role in promoting and regulating international trade relations since its establishment on 1 January 1995.


Students will begin by reflecting on the theoretical arguments for and against ‘free’ trade and on the role of law and institutions in international trade relations. Three seminars of the course will then be dedicated to the institutional structure and decision-making processes of the WTO, including its unique system for the resolution of international trade disputes. 

Subsequently, students will explore the core legal disciplines relating to international trade in goods and services, namely non-discrimination obligations and market access rules. Students will also examine other important areas of WTO law, such as rules on product standards, subsidies, trade remedies and trade-related intellectual property rights, as well as the principle of special and differential treatment of developing countries. In doing so, students will consider how WTO law interacts with other areas of international law and the extent to which WTO members can use trade measures to pursue non-trade policy objectives, such as the protection of public health, human rights or the environment. 

Students will be further exposed to some of the contemporary challenges facing the WTO, including the on-going Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations, WTO members’ (excessive) reliance on adjudication, the proliferation of regional trade agreements, the WTO’s role in global governance and the growing hostility towards economic globalisation and international trade.


Upon completion of this course, students should have acquired:

  1. An advanced knowledge and understanding of the WTO institutional structure and decision-making processes, as well as of its core legal concepts and disciplines on international trade in goods and services;
  2. An ability to critically assess the role played by the different WTO bodies and to think constructively about possibilities for institutional reform, as well as to critically analyse WTO rules and related case law and to evaluate their practical implications and possible avenues for legal development (e.g., amendments to, or/and alternative interpretations of, existing WTO rules);
  3. An ability to engage with contemporary legal and policy debates on WTO law and on its interface with other international legal regimes, and to develop a capacity for innovative thinking on controversial trade and non-trade issues;
  4. An ability to conduct independent research, to synthesise and evaluate material from a variety of relevant primary and secondary sources, and to articulate, sustain and defend a line of argument;
  5. Skills of application of the law and legal problem-solving, by considering both real WTO disputes and hypothetical case-scenarios.

Module syllabus

This module is subject to change.

Indicatively, the module will cover the following seminar topics:

  1. Introduction to the course/to the WTO
  2. Economic Globalisation and WTO Law – Theoretical Underpinnings and Policy Debates
  3. The World Trade Organisation – Institutional Structure, Membership and Decision-making
  4. The WTO Dispute Settlement System (1) – Key Features and Process
  5. The WTO Dispute Settlement System (2) – Implementation/Enforcement and Evaluation
  6. Core Disciplines (1) – Market Access Rules (GATT/GATS)
  7. Core Disciplines (2) – Non-Discrimination Obligations (GATT/GATS)
  8. General Exceptions (1) – Public Health/Environmental Protection (GATT/GATS)
  9. General Exceptions (2) – Protection of Public Morals and Security (GATT/GATS)
  10. Export Restraints on Raw Materials
  11. Rules on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement)
  12. Rules on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement)
  13. Rules on Safeguard Measures (Safeguards Agreement) 
  14. Rules on Dumping and Anti-Dumping Measures (AD Agreement)
  15. Rules on Subsidies and Countervailing Duties (SCM Agreement)
  16. Trade, Intellectual Property and Public Health (TRIPS Agreement)
  17. Trade and Human Rights (Right to Food)
  18. Trade and Development – Special and Differential Treatment
  19. WTO and Regional Trade Agreements – Regional Integration Exceptions
  20. Looking Ahead – Main Challenges for WTO/Exam Revision

Recommended materials

Students are recommended to purchase a copy of the textbook for this module, which is: P. van den Bossche, The Law and Policy of the World Trade Organization (Cambridge University Press, 4th edition, 2017). Other core materials will be WTO primary sources (i.e., WTO agreements, dispute settlement reports and other legal/policy documents), which can be freely downloaded from the WTO website (wto.org).

Module reading lists and other module materials will be provided via online module pages, available at the beginning of term once students have enrolled.

Preliminary reading

Students who have never studied public international law are strongly recommended to do one of the following preliminary readings before the start of the course:

  • M. Dixon, Textbook on International Law (Oxford University Press, 7th edition, 2013), particularly chapters 1-3 and 10; OR
  • M. N. Shaw, International Law (Cambridge University Press, 8th edition, 2017), particularly chapters 1-3, 16 and 18.

In addition, as an introduction to the WTO and international trade issues, students are advised to read:

  • A. Narlikar, The World Trade Organization: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2005); OR
  • P. van den Bossche and D. PrévostEssentials of WTO Law (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Key information

Module details
Credit value:30 credits (15 ECTS, 300 learning hours)
Convenor:Gracia Marín Durán
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:20 x 2-hour weekly seminars, 10 seminars per term, Term One and Two
Who may enrol:LLM students only
Prerequisites:Students who have never studied public international law are strongly recommended to do one of the preliminary readings listed
Must not be taken with:None
Qualifying module for:LLM in International Law
Practice Assessment:Opportunity for feedback on one practice essay and collective feedback on in-class case-type exercises
Final Assessment:Essay (50%); exam (50%)