Trade Policy in the Age of Populism: Why the New Bilateralism Will Not Work

Brexit: The International Legal Implications, Paper No. 12

February 8, 2018

Both the United Kingdom and the United States have embarked on a new trade policy emphasizing the importance of bilateral trade agreements. While the current US administration resents multilateralism and plurilateralism, the UK trade policy remains firmly anchored in commitments to the multilateral trading system. Despite different underpinnings, the new bilateralism on both sides of the Atlantic will not be able to bring about appropriate regulatory cooperation and coherence in addressing global value chains and high levels of division of labour. Instead, future UK trade agreements will have to adjust to the rules of larger markets and thus oblige industry to produce in accordance with a multitude of different and costly standards. The new trade policy fails to recognize that the problems of a highly integrated world economy no longer can be successfully dealt with bilaterally. The paper emphasizes the need to address regulatory issues in multilateral or plurilateral fora. Should Britain leave the European Union and the Customs Union, efforts to bring about a transatlantic partnership succeeding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations and including the European Union, United Kingdom, United States, Canada and the European Free Trade Association are particularly warranted. 

Part of Series

Brexit: The International Legal Implications

Brexit: The International Legal Implications is a series examining the political, economic, social and legal storm that was unleashed by the United Kingdom’s June 2016 referendum and the government’s response to it. After decades of strengthening European integration and independence, the giving of notice under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union forces the UK government and the European Union to address the complex challenge of unravelling the many threads that bind them, and to chart a new course of separation and autonomy. Brexit necessitates a deep understanding of its international law implications on both sides of the English Channel, in order to chart the stormy seas of negotiating and advancing beyond separation. The paper series features international law practitioners and academics from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Europe, explaining the challenges that need to be addressed in the diverse fields of trade, financial services, insolvency, intellectual property, environment and human rights.

About the Author

Thomas Cottier is a member of the international law advisory committee at CIGI, professor emeritus of European and international economic law at the University of Bern, senior research fellow at the World Trade Institute and adjunct professor in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.