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International Legal Research: International Trade

This Guide covers essential print and electronic resources for researching international and foreign law.


There are almost as many subject specialties within international law as there are within our domestic law. A subject approach is often a useful way to start an international legal research project, including one involving international trade.

A good Nutshell on the subject can be quite useful such as International Trade and Economic Relations by Folsum, Gordon & Spanogle, K3943 .F64 2009 and International Business Transactions by Folsum, Gordon & Spanogle K3943.W54 2009.



Don't forget to use the Library of Congress subject headings and call numbers when trying to find relevant print resources. The following call number ranges include materials related to international trade and arbitration:

K2400 Arbitration
K3800 – K4300 Trade regulation

Note that this tab on international trade encompasses trade between nations (Trade with a "T") and international business transactions between private parties (trade with a "t"). The latter is a private international law topic. As discussed earlier in the introduction of this LibGuide, the term "private international law" is confusing on many levels. Private international law involves the application of national law. Nevertheless, there are private international law treaties which serve to harmonize national laws thereby facilitating cross-border transactions between private parties. Many of the most important private international law treaties can be found at the Hague Conference on Private International Law website.

The sources of private international law, as applicable in an arbitration of an international commercial dispute, are quite varied and are discussed further here.


Legal Framework of International Trade

The legal framework of international trade includes global trade regimes, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) (1947) and its successor the the World Trade Organization (WTO). It also includes regional trade regimes such as NAFTA and the EU.

Bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and free trade agreements have proliferated in recent years and pose a systemic risk to the WTO. The reasons for this development include difficulties during the Uruguay, Seattle and Doha rounds of multilateral trade negotiations. In addition, bilateral trade agreements may extend to subject areas beyond WTO competence i.e. foreign investment law. International Trade and Economic Relations by Folsum, Gordon & Spanogle at 43, K3943 .F64 2009. For more information about BIT research, see Bilateral Investment Treaties.

The United Nations has played a relatively minor role in international trade. However, the General Assembly established UNCITRAL (the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law) in 1966. UNCITRAL is charged with furthering the harmonization and unification of the law of international trade. It is now the core legal body of the U.N. system in the field of international trade law.

UNCITRAL monitors two of the most important treaties in international trade law:

  •   United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods, Apr. 11, 1980, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.97/18 (1980); 19 I.L.M. 668 (1980); 1489 U.N.T.S. 3, 59; S. Treaty Doc. 98-9 (1983) (CISG)
  • Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, June 10, 1958, 330 U.N.T.S. 3; 21 U.S.T. 2517 (New York Convention). 

Every nation engaged in international economic relations has a framework defining its role. This framework includes domestic trade laws and its acceptance of international laws regulating international transactions and its participation in international organizations which make rules governing trade. Id. at 22. The U.S. participates in trade negotiations throught its Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The President appoints the United States Trade Representative with the advice and consent of the Senate. The USTR website provides information as to trade and investment agreements to which the U.S. is a party.  

International Trade Terminology

International trade has its own vocabulary (i.e. antidumping measures, countervailing duties). It may be worth consulting a good international trade dictionary for assistance. For a brief listing of international trade dictionary titles, see Hoffman & Rumsey at 252-3. The Library has the following international trade dictionary in its Reference collection.

Bhala, Raj. Dictionary of International Trade Law. (Newark, NJ: LexisNexis: Matthew Bender, 2008) K3943 .B48 2012 Reference

International Trade News

Bloomberg Law's International Trade News is an excellent current awareness source. It contains the latest international trade news stories as well as articles on featured topics. International Trade News is available via Bloomberg Law Home Page > Browse Practice Centers > International Trade > News. Older news stories from the International Trade Daily and International Trade Reporter are also archived here.



HeinOnline U.S. International Trade Library

The U.S. International Trade Library is available via HeinOnline. This Library contains U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) publications (1961-2019), U.S. statutes and regulations relating to international trade, including U.S. Code titles 15 and 19 and CFR Titles 15 and 19, and legislative histories of relevant U.S. trade legislation including bilateral free trade agreements.