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The Politics of Global Trade - POL00057M

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  • Department: Politics and International Relations
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Tony Heron
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The purpose of this module is to identify, map and analyse the key historical, structural, institutional and normative correlates of global trade system. The module begins with a brief reflection on the historical foundations of the modern trade system, tracing the emergence of ‘free trade’ doctrine in the 18th and 19th centuries through to the establishment of the GATT in 1947, the WTO in 1995 and its subsequent paralysis in the 2000s. Next, the module considers competing theoretical approaches and key concepts – hegemony, institutions, interests and ideas – pertaining to why some nation-states pursue ‘liberal’ trade policies while others are more ‘protectionist’, and why this pattern varies across space, time and by sector. The module then goes on, at greater length, to analyse a number of substantive debates concerning the contemporary politics of global trade, including the WTO and the ‘governance of global trade; the rise of transnational enterprises and global value chains; the ‘rising powers’ in global trade; and global trade and development and the environment respectively. The final week will consider the prospects for the global trade system against the backdrop of the rise of populist-nationalism in North America and Europe (and elsewhere), Brexit, ‘trade wars’ and the institutional paralysis of the WTO system.


Week 1: The historical foundations of the global trade system

Week 2: Global trade politics in theoretical perspective

Week 3: The 'governance' of global trade

Week 4: Global value chains

Week 5: The 'rising powers'

Week 6: The global trade system and development

Week 7: The global trade system and the environment

Week 8: The global trade system in crisis?

Module learning outcomes

The aim of this module is to encourage students to think critically about a range of issues related to the politics of international trade and development. Students are then encouraged to apply their theoretical knowledge to empirical situations as we examine trade and development politics both historically and contemporaneously via a series of thematically organised seminar topics. By the end of this module students will be able to:

  • Fully identify the strengths and weaknesses of different theoretical approaches to the issues of trade and development;
  • Demonstrate independent and critical understanding of the most important aspects of international trade, and to show awareness of the relationship between theory and practice therein;
  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, including understanding complex concepts and theories, exercising critical judgement, making effective oral and written presentations, utilising specialist primary and secondary sources, and deepening the capacity for independent learning.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay - 4000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay - 4000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

  • D. Irvin, Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).
  • A. Narlikar (2005), The World Trade Organisation: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • R. Wilkinson (2015), What’s Wrong with the WTO and How to Fix It (Cambridge: Polity).
  • H.J. Chang (2002), Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective (London: Anthem Press).
  • P. Gourevitch (1986), Politics in Hard Times: Comparative Responses to International Economic Crises (Cornell: Cornell University Press).
  • R. Keohane (1984) After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press);
  • F. Trentmann, Free Trade Nation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Bill Dunn (2015) Neither Free Trade Nor Protection: A Critical Political Economy of Trade Theory and Practice (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar).
  • A.Shaikh (ed) (2006) Globalization and the Myth of Free Trade. (London: Routledge).
  • R. Findlay and K. H. O’Rourke (2007) Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium. (Princeton University Press).
  • F. De Ville and G. Siles-Brügge (201) TTIP: The Truth about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (Cambridge: Polity).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.