Trade Law: An Introduction to Selected International Agreements and U.S. Laws [April 3, 2012]   [open pdf - 727KB]

"The post-World War II era has been characterized by a global movement toward liberalizing trade and creating frameworks under which trade disputes can be avoided and resolved. In particular, the trade agreements of the last half-century can be seen as adopting the view that government bodies need a global legal framework to ensure that they effectively conform their countries' policies and laws with their citizens' interests. Legal theorists posit that trade policy failure, in both the global and domestic arenas, as well as inequitable power dynamics among countries engaged in trade negotiations, are the products of a legal architecture that does not sufficiently discipline how governments represent their citizens' interests. In this vein, the international trade law regime has attempted to strengthen its enforcement mechanism over time to ensure that national governments comply with trade law despite shifting domestic pressures. As international trade law has developed, there has been interplay between domestic and global trade law. Initially, international trade agreements focused on tariffs, but, over time, they have broadened to encompass aspects of domestic policymaking and establish fairly stringent dispute settlement mechanisms. This interplay, however, has led to criticism that trade agreements infringe national sovereignty and autonomy by (1) limiting the kinds of policy decisions a country can make and (2) giving international trade dispute settlement bodies too much power to shape and constrain domestic law. This report provides an overview of the legal framework that governs trade-related measures. This framework is composed of both international agreements and domestic laws. The particular agreements and statutes selected for this report are those that are most commonly implicated by U.S. trade interests and policy."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R41306
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