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The Rise and Fall of the Market Metaphor of International Trade Lawmaking

international law


Moot Court Room,
Old College


Tue 6 February 2024

About this event

The market metaphor of international trade lawmaking describes the practice of analogizing the assumption of legal commitments in trade negotiations to commercial transactions in a marketplace. The market metaphor provided a workable framework for lawmaking in the trading system for several decades by appealing to the self-interest of the negotiating countries and allowing them to construct exchanges of concessions even in the absence of agreement on substantive policy goals. However, the market metaphor also provides a key to understanding the decline of the trade regime as a lawmaking forum in the past two decades. The metaphor makes it difficult for trade negotiators to address perceived imbalances in legal commitments, which were at the heart of the disagreement between the developed countries and the emerging economies in the Doha Round. Since the Doha Round was effectively abandoned in 2015, fundamental changes in trade policy in response to the backlash against globalization have further eroded the foundations for conducting negotiations based on the market metaphor. The market metaphor presupposes that negotiators are willing to “commodify” their trade policies, i.e., to treat trade policies themselves as tradeable commodities that they are willing to “sell” in exchange for changes in other countries’ trade policies. In recent years, governments have proved increasingly unwilling to adopt this conceit, instead treating trade policies as non-negotiable. This suggests that the future of trade cooperation lies in areas where countries can agree on substantive policy goals – and that the era in which they were willing to trade off those policy goals for economic gains is ending.

About the speaker

Nicolas Lamp is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University in Canada, where he is cross-appointed to the School of Policy Studies and serves as the Director of the Queen’s Annual Institute on Trade Policy, a professional training course for Canadian trade officials. Prior to joining Queen’s, Dr Lamp worked as a Dispute Settlement Lawyer at the Appellate Body Secretariat of the World Trade Organization. His research focuses on the history of multilateral trade lawmaking and on competing narratives about the winners and losers from economic globalization. His co-authored book (with Anthea Roberts) “Six Faces of Globalization: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why It Matters” was published by Harvard University Press in September 2021. Dr Lamp holds a PhD in Law and an LLM in Public International Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science and degrees in International Relations from the Universities of Dresden and Bremen in Germany. During the 2023-2024 academic year, Dr Lamp is a Senior Fellow at the Research Group “The International Rule of Law - Rise or Decline?” in Berlin, where he is working on a new book about the impact of the multilateral trade regime on supply chains.


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