The Law and Policy of the World Trade Organization GTD4206 


Period 4b
Start Date 11 March 2024
End Date 5 April 2024
ECTS credits:  4
Instruction language:  English
Coordinator: Dr. Denise Prevost
Teaching methods: Lectures, Tutorials, Workshop, work in sub-groups, Assignments, Papers, Presentations
Assessment methods: Assessments; Presentation, Written exam
Keywords: World Trade Organization, international trade law; trade policy-making; economic globalisation 


Full course description

The second course of the specialization Global Governance for Development offers an introduction to the fundamental normative pillars of the multilateral framework for international trade. It focuses on the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the key multilateral framework establishing the norms and rules for trade relations around the globe. 

There is a broad consensus among economists and policymakers that economic globalisation in general, and international trade in particular, may offer an unprecedented opportunity to eradicate poverty and hunger worldwide. However, to ensure that this opportunity is realised, economic globalisation and international trade have to be managed and regulated at the international level. If not, economic globalisation and international trade are likely to be a curse rather than a blessing to humankind, aggravating economic inequality, social injustice, environmental degradation and cultural dispossession. The World Trade Organization and its law are at the heart of the international community’s current efforts at managing and regulating economic globalisation and international trade.

This course introduces the institutional and substantive law of the World Trade Organization, based on discussion of true-to-life case studies. In doing so, it provides students with an understanding of the implications of this legal framework for the ability of governments to pursue their societal policy objectives, such as economic development and sustainability. 

This four-week course addresses three main topics:

Week one covers institutional issues and dispute settlement in the WTO. It starts by introducing students to the phenomenon of economic globalisation, the role of law in international economic and trade relations and the history, objectives, structure, functions, decision-making and membership of the WTO. We then move on to examining the WTO dispute settlement system, discussing the principles, procedures and institutions of this system, and its current crisis.

In week two, we turn to the core substantive rules that govern trade relations between WTO members, namely the rules on non-discrimination for trade in goods and trade in services (known as the obligations of most-favoured nation treatment and national treatment) and the WTO rules on market access (which deal with tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods and services). 

In week three we turn to the exceptions to WTO rules that allow WTO Members to balance free trade with other societal values and interests (such as general public policy objectives, national security objectives and economic policy objectives).

Week four brings all these aspects of WTO law together in a simulation exercise, where students take the role of disputing parties in a case brought to the WTO, and use the legal framework discussed in the course to build convincing arguments for the party they represent. This exercise aims to ensure that students understand the policy implications of the WTO legal framework as a whole and can build convincing arguments in this regard. A workshop on moot court simulations is provided to assist students in acquiring skills regarding preparing and presenting a country’s position in a simulated trade dispute.

Aside from interactive lectures on the above topics to ensure a firm theoretical understanding of the WTO as an institution and its main rules, the course aims to ensure that students develop a practical understanding of the application of these rules and their effect on states’ policy making, including on the possibilities to promote sustainable development. To this end, the course is built around a number of true-to-life international trade problems set out in tutorial assignments on each topic, involving a fictitious developing-country member of the WTO. Students are expected to solve these trade problems by applying their understanding of WTO rules to the fictional cases both in the form of papers and through active oral participation in tutorial classes. They will thereby acquire skills using the WTO legal framework to resolve practical issues that arise in international trade relations, and write briefs setting out their conclusions. 

Weekly ‘current developments lectures’, ensure that students are aware of and can engage in discussion of topical issues of relevance to the course materials. Finally, presentations by students based on the critical literature assigned for each topic ensure that students engage actively with these materials, deepen their understanding and develop their skills in presenting core ideas in an effective manner.

Course objectives

This course aims to provide students with an overview of the institutional structure and main substantive rules of the World Trade Organization. After this course, students should: 

    1. Understand the role of law in governing international trade, be familiar with the institutional arrangements and core rules of the WTO, and grasp the key challenges facing the organization in light of current developments.
    2. Be able to apply the legal framework of the WTO to analyse real-world problems.
    3. Evaluate and critically assess the implications of the WTO legal framework for the regulatory autonomy of governments to pursue their non-trade objectives, including in the area of sustainable development.
    4. Use the WTO legal framework to develop convincing arguments and formulate a well-motivated position for a WTO Member.



Denise Prevost, Associate Professor, dept of International and European Law, Maastricht University;
Jens Hillebrand Pohl, Course Director, Academy of European Law, Trier.



Recommended reading

Mandatory: Van den Bossche, P. & Prevost, D. Essentials of WTO Law, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press 2021; or

Recommended: Van den Bossche. P & Zdouc, W., The Law and Policy of the World Trade Organization. 5th ed. Cambridge University Press 2021;

The WTO Agreements. The Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organization and its Annexes (Cambridge University Press, 2017); or printouts of the WTO agreements, available from:

Scholarly papers/articles/news items listed on Canvas.