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Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance

Master of Law (LLM), Paper 23


Lorand Bartels

Henning Grosse Ruse-Khan


The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the primary organization in the field of economic globalization. WTO law governs the rights of governments to regulate international trade in goods and services and requires them to protect intellectual property. The WTO has an active dispute settlement system which, since 1995, has produced a substantial jurisprudence.

The purpose of this course is to study the law of the WTO, as set in a real-world social and political context. In addition to focusing on the fundamentals of WTO law, the course looks at the relationship between WTO rules and other values, such as the rights of WTO Members to protect public policy interests. A special theme is the role of developing countries within the WTO system.

At the end of the course, students should have an appreciation of the purpose and functions of the WTO and be familiar with its rules and jurisprudence.

The course presumes no prior knowledge of economics or trade policy. It is an advantage, though not mandatory, to have a background in public international law.

The first part of the course commences with the history of the WTO and its institutional dimension. Next, it turns to the mechanism of trade negotiations and the core WTO principles in goods and services as well as the non-economic exceptions to WTO obligations. Based on this knowledge of substantive WTO law, the course discusses the WTO dispute settlement system, including the relationship between WTO law and other parts of the international legal system (for example, environmental and human rights law).

The second part of the course covers more specialized subjects, including the regulation of product standards and of food safety and pests, as well as the main trade policy instruments used by governments to protect their domestic industries, ie subsidies and ‘trade remedies’, intellectual property protection, including the legal rights of WTO Members to order ‘compulsory licences’ for essential medicines, and the issue of trade and finance.

Finally, the course devotes three seminars to a discussion of the major subsystems of trade regulation, which exist formally as exceptions to the most-favoured-nation obligation. The first of these is the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), under which developed countries may grant preferential tariff treatment to developing countries; the second is the regulation of regional trade agreements. We round off the course with a seminar discussing those areas in which regional trade agreements go beyond the subjects covered by the WTO.