International relations

The Politics of International Trade

Module code: L2076A
Level 6
30 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Essay, Coursework

This module aims to equip you with an understanding of the modern international trading system and the theoretical traditions and political practices that have helped to shape it. The first section examines the core theories around trade and trade liberalisation, particularly those of liberalism, economic nationalism and neo-Marxism, in order to explore different understandings of the relationship between free trade, protectionism, and development.

The second section of the module examines the evolution of a liberal trade regime in the world economy from its collapse in the interwar period to its resurrection and extension in the form of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947 and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995. Core elements of, and controversies within, the global trade system will be scrutinised and situated within this historical context. These will include the recurring threat and changing forms of protectionism, the increasing fragmentation of the trade system engendered by regional trade agreements, the role of emerging powers, and the differential impact of the trade system on developed and developing countries. This survey will establish the empirical and theoretical resources to move in the third section towards an assessment of the deadlocked WTO Doha Round and the ongoing negotiations of a Transatlantic Free-Trade Agreement (TAFTA).

The aim of this section is to understand the main actors and areas of contention and to assess the potential for a more equitable and ethical trading system.

The module is taught through a weekly three-hour seminar that normally consists of a combination of `mini-lectures' and seminar discussions on the week's topics. The assessment for this module is a research exercise (weighted 10%) and a long term paper of 6000 words (weighted 90%).

Module learning outcomes

  • Develop a systematic and critical understanding of the various competing theories, actors, institutions and processes that help to explain and interpret the contemporary trade system and trade liberalisation.
  • Develop a detailed conceptual understanding for why the multilateral trade negotiations known as the Doha Development Agenda has stalled.
  • Effectively synthesise and communicate the empirical and theoretical uncertainties, ambiguities and limits associated with role of developing countries within multilateral trade negotiations.