New edition of book updates changing world of international trade law in free, open-access format

LAWRENCE — International trade law has transformed rapidly since 2019. A University of Kansas law expert is addressing those changes with a new edition of his textbook that for the first time is available free of charge in an open-access format.

Vaccine nationalism catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the globe, while new political regimes took power that challenged the dominant free trade consensus. Social justice movements pressed for enhanced human rights provisions in trade treaties, and the World Trade Organization dispute settlement system saw the demise of the Appellate Body. Those were among the shifts to inspire the publication of “International Trade Law: A Comprehensive E-Textbook, Sixth Edition,” by Raj Bhala, Brenneisen Distinguished Professor at the KU School of Law. 

The “E” is a significant first. The new edition was published open access via KU ScholarWorks, KU’s online institutional repository of scholarly work by KU faculty, staff and students managed by KU Libraries.

The new edition spans eight volumes over 188 chapters and more than 6,500 pages. The volumes can be used flexibly, such as in combination for basic and advanced trade courses, or as stand-alone books for specialty courses. The text explains and analyzes changes in the field, such as U.S. trade policy following the 2020 presidential election, the new iteration of the North American free trade agreement, the worsening Sino-American trade war, ramifications of Brexit, efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to liberalize India’s trade policies, the proliferation of trade measures against Iran following the end of the nuclear deal, new U.S. and European Union law forced labor prohibitions concerning merchandise or companies associated with China’s Xinjiang Province and more.

“We can’t forget Russian sanctions,” Bhala said in reference to actions taken following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “In Volume Four, titled ‘National Security,’ there are four chapters on Russian sanctions, which didn’t exist 2019. In Volume Eight, ‘Growth, Development, and Poverty,’ there are four new chapters on Indian trade issues. Across all eight volumes, a good deal of attention is paid to social justice issues, including how some free trade agreements now address rights for women and LGBTQ individuals. Across 32 years, since the first edition, the conceptual and practical patterns of world trade law have altered. This book says, ‘Here is where we were, here’s where we are now, and here's where we’re headed.’ It encompasses the grand sweep of paradigmatic shifts in world trade law. Indeed, to help appreciate this sweep, Volume One, ‘Interdisciplinary Foundations,’ has three new chapters on international relations theory.”

The book’s format has changed since the previous version as well. Making it available via KU ScholarWorks and SSRN eliminates the hefty price tag and simultaneously increases the work’s value.

“The value of information, regardless of format, comes from its ability to meet two criteria: reliability and shareability. Raj Bhala is one of the world’s leading scholars on international trade and has devoted his career to creating this text. The reliability goes without question. This leaves us with the value that come from shareability. By removing the financial barrier that comes with traditional publishing, we have made this text as valuable as we possibly can,” said W. Blake Wilson, assistant director of Wheat Law Library at KU.

Bhala praised colleagues in KU Libraries and KU Law’s Wheat Law Library who encouraged the open format publication and addressed the challenges of making a document the size of “International Trade Law” openly available.

“I’ve had students from across America and around the world say, ‘I want to take your class and buy your book, but I can’t afford it.’ When my library colleagues suggested publishing it via open access, I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s try it,’” Bhala said. “It’s a total win-win. All the reference and teaching materials are there. I think KU’s leadership in open access is outstanding. As far as I know, it’s one of the only law textbooks available open access, certainly in trade. This platform – KU ScholarWorks – helps ensure the international trade bar is open, inclusive and meritocratic.”

KU was the first public university to pass a faculty open access policy in 2009 that asserts faculty rights to make their published scholarly articles openly accessible, according to Marianne Reed, digital publishing and repository manager in KU Libraries. 

“I applaud Dr. Bhala’s commitment to giving students and scholars open access to high-quality textbooks free of charge and ScholarWorks will make sure that they are available for many years to come,” Reed said. “I hope that others will follow his lead in making their scholarship openly available.”

Students affected by the growing student debt crisis were top of mind in making the newest edition freely available.

“Excessive textbook costs pose a significant challenge for law students, so efforts like this represent a tangible way to help students focus more on the course material and less on their book budget,” said Chris Steadham, director of Wheat Law Library. “Legal publishing tends to value tradition and is not often first to adopt the latest fad. However, it is now clear that open access is here to stay and that it is a more-than-viable alternative for delivering scholarly information. This project is an excellent example of this evolution in legal education. When we have an internationally renowned professor publishing a leading textbook in this format, that reinforces the benefits of open access and promotes it as something that others might want to consider when they author a new textbook or a new edition.”

Tue, 06/25/2024


Mike Krings

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