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Law professor's book explores 'constitution of international trade law'

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

LAWRENCE — For nearly 60 years, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, better known as GATT, brought down barriers, encouraged trade among nations and changed the way the world does business, yet received surprisingly little attention in the world of scholarly law. A University of Kansas law professor has changed that with a two-volume, 3,000-page exploration of the “constitution of international trade law.”

Raj Bhala, associate dean for international and comparative law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the KU School of Law, has authored “Modern GATT Law: A Treatise on the Law and Political Economy of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and Other World Trade Organization Agreements” second edition. The book is an extensive examination of GATT, all 38 of its articles, their applications in the law, related WTO influence, examinations of theories critical of unlimited international trade and much more.

“It came about as a passion for the topic,” Bhala said of the treatise. “I’ve always been fascinated by GATT. Unintentionally, it became the constitution of international trade law. It was a shining example of the reality and effectiveness of international law. It was functioning effectively, and yet no one was paying attention to it. Even after the birth of the WTO in 1995, GATT remains, and its rules and principles get reincarnated in new areas, such as services and intellectual property.”

Bhala wrote the first edition in 2005. Since then, international trade law has both flourished and changed dramatically with the influence of the WTO and its roughly 160 member countries. More than 400 cases have been adjudicated at the WTO, dealing with all manner of trade law topics, including ones directly relevant to Kansas, like subsidies for agricultural products and airplanes. That prompted the second edition, published like the first, by Sweet & Maxwell.

Drafted beginning in 1945 and enacted in 1948, GATT was hugely influential in bringing nations together through international trade. GATT grew in members from 23 in 1947 to more than 125 by 1995, including poor, newly independent, Muslim and nonwestern nations. “Modern GATT Law” explores how the membership grew more diverse, including the importance of developing nations and how nations such as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Laos and Tajikistan gained positions of varying degrees of power within the organization.

Among its 85 chapters “Modern GATT Law” not only examines all articles of GATT and related WTO provisions, but it offers applicable case studies and examines all WTO rounds, including the failed Doha round, which declared fighting terrorism and extremism through trade as its top priority. Bhala examines how trade has become a tool in international diplomacy and element of national security, as illustrated in part by sanctions placed on Iran and North Korea. He also examines controversial topics such as mad cow disease and its effects on trade between nations and how GATT increasingly links law and other areas of scholarship.

“The treatise this time really goes over the essential precepts, essential interdisciplinary foundations of politics, religion, economics and philosophy as they relate to law,” Bhala said. “International traders and their lawyers have become much more conscious of those links over the years and are not as likely to look at trade law as an isolated topic.”

International trade and global commerce have come under increasing criticism in recent years, often justifiably so, Bhala said, when the drive for profit results in human rights abuses, environmental degradation, labor violations, poverty and other outcomes contrary to human dignity and the common good. The treatise analyzes such criticisms and evaluates emerging theories of how international trade law can be reformed to comport better with social justice, offering neither justification nor condemnation of any one theory, but lending insight into how each one fits into modern international trade law.

Early demand for the book has been strong in several countries.

“It’s rare for a book to appeal to the international markets in the way that ‘Modern GATT Law’ does. It’s a testament to the quality of the text that our subsidiaries in America, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand have all expressed their interest in disseminating the title within their jurisdictions,” said Andrew Moroney, publishing editor at Sweet & Maxwell in London. “In fact, each presentation about the book to those companies has met with unanimous praise for the scope and breadth of the contents list alone, so we expect to hear great things when the books land on their desks.”

In addition to being a useful reference for international trade lawyers, scholars and anyone interested in cross-border commerce, Bhala said the book is both an homage to the visionary work of the founders of GATT and an invaluable teaching tool. Students at the KU School of Law were intimately involved in all aspects of the book’s creation. In particular, the student research assistants, who hail from across Kansas and from multiple nations, gained an experience not available in the traditional classroom.

“I give a great deal of credit to the research assistants,” Bhala said. “A two-year project like this simply could not have been done on time, or with quality, without my research assistants at the KU Law School. They were enthusiastically engaged through legal research and writing on sophisticated topics. I learned a great deal from their productive output, and they are testaments to the synergy between teaching and research. Plus, we had a lot of fun.”