UCL Faculty of Laws


Law of the World Trade Organisation (LAWS0273)

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 and other public policy objectives.

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. One seminar 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 and on sanitary and phytosanitary measures. 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. 

Module Syllabus

Indicatively, the module will cover the following seminar topics: 

  1. Introduction to the module - Economic Globalisation and WTO Law – Theoretical Underpinnings and Policy Debates 

  1. The World Trade Organisation – Institutional Structure, Membership and Decision-making 

  1. The WTO Dispute Settlement System – Key Features, Process and Challenges 

  1. Core Disciplines (1) – Market Access Rules (GATT/GATS) 

  1. Core Disciplines (2) – Non-Discrimination Obligations (GATT/GATS) 

  1. Exceptions (1) – Public Health/Environmental Protection (GATT/GATS) 

  1. Exceptions (2) – Protection of Public Morals (GATT/GATS) 

  1. Rules on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) 

  1. Rules on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) 

  1. 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 module:

  • 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. Prévost, Essentials of WTO Law (Cambridge University Press, 2016). 

Key information

Module details
Credit value:22.5 credits (225 learning hours)
Convenor:Piet Eeckhout
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:

10 x 2-hour weekly seminars, Term Two

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:TBD
Final Assessment:2 Hour Online Controlled Condition Exam (100%)