International trade

Primary tabs

International trade law: an overview

International trade is “the exchange of goods [or] services” “between nations.” Black’s Law Dictionary 285, 1529 (8th ed. 2004).

Sources of international trade law

Constitutional, federal, and international laws govern international trade between the United States and foreign nations (or persons or entities therefrom). Federal and international laws address a wide range of trade issues, such as customs duties, dumping, embargoes, free trade zones, intellectual property, quotas, and subsidies.

The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to “regulate commerce with foreign nations,” U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, cl. 3, while other Article I provisions empower Congress to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises,” id. at Art. I, § 8, cl. 1, and prohibit states from doing the same without congressional approval, id. at Art. I, § 10, cl. 2. Pursuant to this authority, Congress has enacted numerous federal statutes, including the Tariff Act of 1930, the Trade Act of 1974, and the Trade Agreements Act of 1979.


Article II of the U.S. Constitution empowers the President, “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of Senators present concur.” U.S. Const. Art. II, § 2, cl. 2. Pursuant to this authority, presidents have negotiated numerous international treaties and trade agreements, including the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (regarding trade in goods), the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (regarding intellectual property), and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Currently, the United States has free trade agreements in force with 17 nations.

International Trade Administration

The International Trade Administration ("ITA"), a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce, aims to "strengthen[] the competitiveness of U.S. industry, promote[] trade and investment, and ensure[] fair trade through rigorous enforcement of [U.S.] trade laws and agreements." ITA, About the International Trade Administration (last visited Oct. 23, 2010). The ITA is comprised of four distinct business units: (1) U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, (2) Manufacturing and Services, (3) Market Access and Compliance, and (4) Import Administration. Id.   

World Trade Organization

The United States is a member of the World Trade Organization ("WTO"). The WTO is an international organization that only recently (1995) came into being, succeeding the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade ("GATT"). WTO, The Multilateral Trading System — Past, Present and Future (2010). The WTO provides a forum and a "legal and institutional framework" for its member to negotiate, implement, monitor, and resolve disputes relating to international trade agreements. See Pascal Lamy, About the WTO — A Statement by the Director General (last visited Oct. 23, 2010). As of July 23, 2008, 153 nations and customs territories were members of the WTO and 31 were observers. WTO, Members and Observers (last visited Oct. 23, 2010).

menu of sources

Federal Material

U.S. Constitution

Federal Statutes

Federal Regulations

International Material

Conventions and Treaties

Other References

Key Internet Sources

Useful Offnet (or Subscription - $) Sources

other topics

Category: International, Transnational, and Comparative Law