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Law, Language and International Trade Regulation in the WTO

SMITH, F; (2010) Law, Language and International Trade Regulation in the WTO. Current Legal Problems , 63 pp. 448-474.

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Scholars and practitioners argue that failures in international agricultural trade regulation in the World Trade Organisation arise because the existing rules are unable to prevent states from using trade measures which disrupt the natural flow of agricultural goods in and out of their domestic markets. According to their ideas, better rules are needed to re-establish the free market in agricultural products. This suggestion is based on assumptions about the role of language. That is, that language is like a tool box: all the words and sentence constructions are available at any time in the box and we only need to select what we need to fulfil a task. Seen in these terms, the problem of international agricultural trade is elf-evident, it is merely that we have selected the wrong language ‘tools’ from our proverbial tool box. In this lecture, I will suggest that this conception of language’s role in regulation is too limited. Instead I will sketch out a project which offers a more dynamic role for language. Specifically what language does and how it does it; whether it is possible, using language scholarship as a methodological approach, to determine where the boundary is between what can be said and what cannot be said by the agricultural trade community of scholars, negotiators and civil society representatives, and, how this might translate into the WTO rules on agriculture; how far the language used in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (or any amendments) can be ‘stretched’ to accommodate multiple meanings and what those meanings might be. That is, can the precise range of meanings be predicted using language as the methodology? What it means to interpret a treaty and how this works in the context of international agricultural trade. Whilst the lecture focuses on international agricultural trade in the WTO, general comments on language have resonance for many other areas of international law.

Type: Article
Title: Law, Language and International Trade Regulation in the WTO
Location: UK
Publisher version: http://clp.oxfordjournals.org/content/current
Keywords: Agriculture, WTO, International Trade, international economic law, Semantics, Language, Agricultural trade, James Boyd White
UCL classification: UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences
UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Laws
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1307201
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