ASTK15403U COURSE: Multipolarity, multilateralism and mega-trade agreements: A new global trading order?

Volume 2015/2016

Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS

Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS


Elective course - Specialization "International political Economy"

Elective course - SRM

Bachelor students can only sign up for this course if they are enrolled at political science


The recent wave of negotiations on new mega-trade agreements, of which the Atlantic TTIP agreement and the Pacific TPP agreement are best known, constitute the most ambitious trade agreement ever pursued in the history of world trade. China and other emerging markets are also pursuing bilateral trade agreements on their own. These are potentially systemic changes that signal a complete reconfiguration of power in the global economy. The course addresses and equations this interpretation. It focuses on the fundamental discussion of whether TPP and TTIP are supplanting or reproducing the existing global trade order with an order based on competitive liberalization and power-driven diplomacy. Are we witnessing a new global order that represents a multi-polarization of the post-war liberal order and a demise of the order based on compromised embedded liberalism and sovereign-sensitive neo-liberalization? Or do these agreements represent a return of the strategic trading state in the global economy? Or are they in fact reforming of the existing liberal order? Are the TPP, TTIP and Chinese free trade agreements best explained as a continuation of the WTO order rather than replacement of the postwar liberal order?


3. Structure

The course will start by examining and comparing these mega-trade agreements with previous trade agreements and the WTO agreements. IT will then proceed to present relevant theory and analysis of the debate between reformists and transformationalists. The latter position holds that especially TTIP is an example of political and institutional forum-shifting, a competitiveness-driven, geo-strategic reordering of the world economy. TPP is often seen as strategic containment of China by the US. However, both IPE realists and critical IPE sees TTIP was a reordering despite their disagrees on most issues concerning the global economy. Yet, their understandings of power and institutions have much in common. Liberals, institutionalists and to some extent constructivists points to continuities in the global drift towards megatrade agreements. TTIP and TPP as necessary leadership strategies in the maintenance of the existing trade order, an attempt to fix problems and imperfections of a fragmenting WTO-based regime complex while preserving and reproducing the constitutive features of that order. Constructivist IPE stresses the reconstitution of the basic social institutions in global trade. TPP and TTIP are not only reflections of changed power relations and the strategic interests of commercial great powers and transnational business interests, but also new governance arrangements grown out of learning, failed reforms and experienced problems. Multipolarity and multilateralism are codependent social realities shaped by the preexisting order.

Course plan (indicative)

Duration: 7 weeks, two weekly sessions.

Weeks 13-19 (28-3 to 13-5 2016, excluding public holidays 28-3, 22-4 and 5-5)

Week 13

Introduction to theory


1. Economic theory on regional vs. global trade liberalization: trade diversion vs trade creation.

Debate: Difficulties of estimating both relative and absolute ‘gains from trade’; the analytical and ideational contestations of economic trade analysis


2. IPE theories: Power, Interests and Ideational approaches to global trade issues

Negotiation theory: uncertainty, two-level games

Debate: limitations of mainstream IPE and rational negotiation theories in the global economy

Week 14

TTIP in detail


What, why now, process and debate

Focus: EU FTAs, and EU trade politics, including Denmark

Week 15

TPP in detail

What, why now, process and debate

Focus: US FTAs and US trade politics.

Week 16

Chinese FTAs (and others)

What is it, why now, what process and what debate

Focus: Chinese FTAs and trade policy, India  possible also.

Learning exercise 

Workshop: Policy briefs of selected FTA issues

Week 17          

A Geo-strategic reordering: FTAs as power instruments

Economic patriotism, IPE realism, Neoliberal IR: strategic competition, global rivalry, national capitalisms, domestic competitiveness concerns.

Debate: forum shifting or geo-strategic necessity?

Week 17

The liberal defence: FTAs as stepping stones

Order fragmentation, functional regime complex, trade  risks regulation, global production. 

Debate: Steeping stones or stumbling blocks?

Week 18

The critics: FTAs a neo-liberalization

Global trade order, demise of embedded liberalism, corporate power in trade politics. 

Debate: The dark side of globalization (i.e. consumer risks, democratic deficit, global injustice concerns)

week 19

Prospects of a

revitalization of the WTO

1. FTAs and multilateralism: the WTO in crisis?

2. FTAs and outsiders: Developing countries, what chance do they have?


Debate: Is this the death of the WTO?

Learning Outcome

The objective of the course/seminar is to enable the students to:

  • Describe the specific issues involving the politics, regulation, diplomacy and negotiations of different current free trade agreements
  • Present the key theoretical orientations within international political economy in relations to global trade issues
  • apply the theories to actual cases
  • Compare and analyse the main theoretical trends relating to the content and process of diplomatic tradenegotiations, minilateral and multilateral governance processes, and the different political processes relevant to contemporary global trade relations  
  • Combine and synthesise contributions to the academic debate on the relationship between free trade, globalisation and multilateral trade governance 
  • Evaluate the validity of the various approaches, arguments and analysis of contemporary free trade agreements.

Baldwin, Richard (2011): “21st Century Regionalism: Filling the gap between 21st century trade and 20th century trade rules”, World Trade Organization Staff Working Paper ERSD-2011-08, 23 May 2011.  http:/​/​​english/​res_e/​reser_e/​ersd201108_e.pdf

Centre for Economic Policy Research (2013): Reducing Transatlantic Barriers to Trade and Investment: An Economic Assessment, March 2013, Centre for Economic Policy Re-search, London. http:/​/​​doclib/​docs/​2013/​march/​tradoc_150737.pdf

Capling, Ann and John Ravenhill (2011): Multilateralising regionalism: what role for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement?, The Pacific Review, Vol. 24 No. 5 December 2011: 553–575

Daniel S. Hamilton (2014): TTIP's Geostrategic Implications, Transatlantic Partnership Forum Working Paper Series, September 2014, pp. 1-20

Drezner, Daniel W. (2013): “The Tragedy of the Global Institutional Commons”, i  Fin-nemore & Goldstein (eds.), Back to Basics: State Power in a Contemporary World,  Oxford; OUP, pp. 1-12

European Commission (2013): Final Report - High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth, February 11, 2013. http:/​/​​doclib/​docs/​2013/​february/​tradoc_150519.pdf

Felbermayr, Gabriel; Benedikt Heid & Sybille Lehwald (2013): Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership :  Who benefits from a free trade deal?, Bertelsmann Stiftung. http:/​/​​fundacion/​data/​ESP/​media/​Estudio_Transatlantic_Trade_BST_en.pdf

Gamble, Andrew (2015): Multipolarity and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, The TTIP in a multipolar world - Global impact of an evolving transatlantic relationship, J-F. Morin, T. Novotna F. Ponjaert, & M. Telò (eds.), Farnham, Ashgate, 2015

Gilpin, Robert (2001): Global Political Economy – Understanding the International Eco-nomic Order, Princeton, N.J, Princeton University Press

Keohane, Robert O. and Julia Morse (2015): Counter-multilateralism, The TTIP in a multipolar world - Global impact of an evolving transatlantic relationship, J-F. Morin, T. Novotna F. Ponjaert, & M. Telò (eds.), Farnham, Ashgate, 2015

Mastanduno, Michael (1998): “Economics and Security in Statecraft and Scholarship”, International Organization 52, p. 825-854

Meunier, Sophie and Jean-Frédéric Morin (2015): No Agreement is an Island: Negotiating TTIP in a Dense Regime Complex, The TTIP in a multipolar world - Global impact of an evolving transatlantic relationship, J-F. Morin, T. Novotna F. Ponjaert, & M. Telò (eds.), Farnham, Ashgate

Mortensen. Jens Ladefoged (2015):  WTO oversight over bilateral agreements: from a notification to an examination process? In The TTIP in a multipolar world - Global im-pact of an evolving transatlantic relationship, J-F. Morin, T. Novotna F. Ponjaert, & M. Telò (eds.), Ashgate,

Sell, Susan K (2010): TRIPs Was Never Enough: Vertical Forum Shifting, FTAS, ACTA, and TPP 18 J. Intell. Prop. L. 447, pp. 447-478

Ruggie, John G. (1982): “International regimes, transactions, and change: embedded liberalism in the postwar economic order”, International Organisation 36: 2, 1982, pp. 195-231.

Siles-Brügge, Gabriel. (2013). ‘The Power of Economic Ideas: A Constructivist Political Economy of EU Trade Policy’, Journal of Contemporary European Research,  9 (4), pp. 597-617.

Woolcock, Stephen (2007): European Union policy towards Free TradeAgreements, ECIPE Working Paper , No. 03/2007. Online. Available HTTP: http:/​/​​contenido/​negociaciones/​anexos/​2010-09-european-union-policy-towards-free-trade-agreements.pdf

A very good knowledge of key literatures in international relations and IPE is beneficial but not essential. Formal training in Economics is not required, as the course give emphasis to the analysis of the interaction between politics, law and institutions in global trade liberalisation.
The proposed course will run for 7 weeks, with two sessions each week. Classes will consist of a mixture of mini-lectures, small group exercises and plenary debates and discussions. The course will be team taught with an emphasis on active learning, and include guest lectures by invited diplomats, NGOs and businesses representatives and extended group exercise explicitly aiming at producing policy briefs and subsequent group presentations.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Course Preparation
  • 68
  • Exam
  • 1
  • Exam Preparation
  • 57
  • Exercises
  • 10
  • Preparation
  • 42
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner