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The "Transnational" Political Economy:

A Framework for Analysis.[*]

Jarrod Wiener, University of Kent at Canterbury[**]


Private International Trade Law:

The Positivist Perspective.

The Autonomist Perspective.

The Sources of the Lex Mercatoria: "Lex", or "Principa".

Applicability and Coercive Force.

"Delocalised International Commercial Arbitration":

Preliminary Observations:

Public International Trade Law.

Normative, Structural Imperatives of the Transnational Political Economy.

Conclusion: The Agenda for Research:




Sovereignty, Authority, and Governance:





SiSU Metadata, document information


SiSU Manifest, alternative outputs etc.

The "Transnational" Political Economy: - A Framework for Analysis.

Jarrod Wiener

copy @ Lex Mercatoria

The "Transnational" Political Economy:

A Framework for Analysis.[*]

Jarrod Wiener, University of Kent at Canterbury[**]


This paper is a first attempt to make explicit a methodological framework that will inform the structure for a larger work.  1  It is called "Transnational" Political Economy to distinguish it from the term "globalisation", which is increasingly gaining currency. "Globalisation" is taken to mean the spread of a certain phenomenon to increasingly larger portions of the globe; for instance, the globalisation of capital, or of liberal capitalist ideology. "Transnationalism", as defined here, subsumes globalisation in the sense that it also describes a process, and that it is concerned with the harmonisation of certain commercial activities. Where it differs is that it builds upon the logic of globalisation and refines it within a dynamic, multi-levelled analysis.

Transnational Political Economy is concerned with the processes of harmonisation within, and between, three "levels" of analysis: individual, state/systemic, and structural. At the individual level are individual traders (including multinational corporations), commercial coalitions, and associations of individuals that transcend state boundaries (such as the International Chamber of Commerce, and Unidroit). Occupying the systemic level are states and all of the manifestations of their power, namely, their systems of municipal commercial law, private international commercial law (which is essentially a choice between a system of municipal law), and public international law, including the international commercial regimes (such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)) and intergovernmental economic organisations (ECOSOC, UNDP). The structural level is conceived as a Grotian, normative construct that encompasses all of the constraints and opportunities that affect both individuals and states by virtue of operating within a capitalist system.

Transnational Political Economy begins from the assumption that these levels are becoming more integrated, or harmonised, both "horizontally" in their own right, and "vertically" as the distinction between these levels becomes blurred. Horizontal harmonisation refers to a process that affect the actors that are confined to a particular level. For instance, at the individual level, as the ICC promulgates uniform procedures, or standard contracts for the sale of a certain commodity. The actors involved in that community thereby become more integrated in their practice. Similarly, as states agree to more codes at the level of public international commercial law, their legislations become harmonised to a greater extent. For instance, not only have the tariff codes of the signatories to the GATT become uniform, but as they agree to common rules for services trade and the protection of intellectual property rights, for instance, a greater scope of their commercial laws will become standardised.

The concept of "vertical" harmonisation means the simultaneous harmonisation of the private and public spheres. One of the interesting aspects highlighted by Transnational Political Economy is that this methodology spotlights certain trends that are taking place at the different levels simultaneously. For instance, the ICC and various commodity and professional associations are formulating rules of conduct, standard codes, and model laws to govern certain aspects of international trade from the "bottom up" at the same time that states are relinquishing control over the same issues in public international commercial fora from the "top down". One instance of this is the parallel discussion of public procurement in the Uruguay round of the GATT at the same time that the UNCITRAL Model Law Incorporating Services Procurement Procedures was adopted in May 1994.  2 

The Transnational approach therefore seeks to incorporate the process of increasing globalisation and to take into account the dynamics of the international political economy in a multi-level framework. But the most interesting aspects of Transnational Political Economy lie not the mere description of the initiatives at harmonisation. To do so would produce a fairly dry, largely positivist, account of the measures that have been taken to date. Rather, interesting theoretical comments can be made as to the causes and consequences of such harmonisation, which are normative in nature. Three points, in particular, that will be highlighted in this paper, illustrate the importance of the normative-structural level.

The first is that much of the harmonisation has been "demand driven", or functionally determined, due to the imperatives of globalising liberal capitalism. The principles of private international commercial law, whether they be codified by agencies like the ICC or merely exist in the repeated practice of traders, came about due to the increasing volume and complexity of trade, and the need for simplification, standardisation, and predictability. Similarly, leading to the Uruguay round, states found that there was a host of areas in which rules needed to be made to keep pace with the growth of the international economy, such as the protection of intellectual property rights, and services trade.

The second point is that, as the international economy becomes "globalised", it becomes "politicised" at various levels simultaneously. The issues to be contended with increasingly mandate inputs from private traders, be they organised associations or the lobbying activities of multinational corporations, in inter-governmental fora. And, the issues that are under discussion, it is hypothesised, are increasingly dealt with at a number of levels simultaneously, such as public procurement, as mentioned above.

The third point relates to the issue of control, often expressed in the literature of "globalisation" as the issue of sovereignty. The logic of the international political economy, it seems, is driving states to create new rules for international trade, which necessarily means that they voluntarily relinquish their authority over certain issues. As these issues move away from the traditional concern of tariffs and quantitative restrictions, and into such issues as services, intellectual property rights, and agriculture, the loss of sovereignty over issues becomes acute, and socially disruptive in some cases. Similarly, there are processes within the international commercial community that operate according to their own logic which are undermining the ability of states to control areas that have traditionally fallen within their sole sovereign authority. This is apparent in the application of anational laws in national courts, and in "delocalised" international commercial tribunals.

The conclusion of the framework suggested here points to the search for new patterns of authority in the international economy. For, as the processes of globalisation continue, and the demands for rule-making become acute in a greater number of areas, attention must turn to the ways in which the tensions between state authority and normative structures of authority are resolved.

This paper could not hope, within permissible confines, to elaborate in detail all of the issues raised by the methodology suggested above. For present purposes, this paper will concentrate on the harmonisation that is occurring within the sphere of private and public international trade law. In doing so, it will highlight the differences between positivist and normative/autonomist conceptions of transnational harmonisation. The paper will conclude with some thoughts as to the normative implications of the growth of such harmonisation, and the areas for further research.

 1. J. Wiener and A.J. Williams, The Transnational Political Economy: An Introduction to the Politics of the International Economy, (Forthcoming).

 2. "United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Concludes Twenty-Seventh Session, 31 May-17 June; Adopts Model Law Incorporating Services, Procurement Procedures and Guide to its Enactment", L\TR26, 17 June 1994.

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