UCL Faculty of Laws


Law of the World Trade Organization (LAWS0268)

As a field of public international law, WTO law regulates trade relations and dispute settlement between States, and addresses the complex interaction between international trade liberalization.

The module aims to provide students with an advanced knowledge and critical understanding of the regulatory framework of 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 1st January 1995. 

Students will begin by reflecting on the theoretical arguments for and against international trade liberalisation and on the role of law and institutions in international trade relations. Two seminars of the module 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 public international law and the extent to which WTO members can use trade measures to pursue non-trade policy objectives, such as the protection of the environment, public health, human rights or national security. 

Students will be further exposed to some of the contemporary challenges facing the WTO, including the very limited progress in the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations launched almost 20 years ago, WTO members’ (excessive) reliance on adjudication and the on-going Appellate Body's crisis, the proliferation of regional trade agreements, the WTO’s role in global governance and the growing hostility towards economic globalisation and international trade.

Module syllabus

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 – Key Features, Process and Challenges
  5. Core Disciplines (1) – Market Access Rules (GATT/GATS)
  6. Core Disciplines (2) – Non-Discrimination Obligations (GATT/GATS)
  7. Exceptions (1) – Public Health/Environmental Protection (GATT/GATS)
  8. Exceptions (2) – Protection of Public Morals (GATT/GATS)
  9. Exceptions (3) – Protection of National/International 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 Dumping and Anti-Dumping Measures (AD Agreement)
  14. Rules on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM Agreement)
  15. Trade, Intellectual Property and Public Health (TRIPS Agreement)
  16. Trade and Human Rights (Right to Food)
  17. Trade and Development – Special and Differential Treatment
  18. WTO and Regional Trade Agreements – Regional Integration Exceptions
  19. Looking Ahead – Main Challenges for WTO
  20. 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). Individual seminar reading lists and other course materials will be provided via the online module page, 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 may 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 information
Credit value:45 credits 450 learning hours)
Convenor:Gracia Marin Duran
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:Teaching for all LLM modules in 2020-21 will be delivered through a combination of pre-recorded and synchronous live teaching
Who may enrol:LLM Students Only
Prerequisites:None. However, students who have never studied public international law are strongly recommended to do one of the listed preliminary readings.
Must not be taken with:None
Qualifying module for:

LLM in International Law

Practice Assessment:TBC
Final Assessment:48 Hour take-home examination (100%)