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In order for free trade as a policy to deliver fully on its social promise, it must be both “free” and “trade.” In fact, it must be free, in the sense of voluntary, to be trade at all. In other words, for normative and practical reasons, free trade requires that global economic relations be structured through agreements which reflect the consent of those subject to them. The neoliberal trading system today only imperfectly lives up to this obligation. In this essay, I will examine the role of consent in trade agreements, drawing on examples from CAFTA as representative of important trends in multilateral and hemispheric integration systems. I will argue that an investigation into the nature of trade as a human experience reveals that many aspects of current trade law and policy mix what is ostensibly free trade with something else: exploitation, coercion or predation. This has normative implications for the justification of the neoliberal trading system, and practical implications for the analysis and structure of trade agreements and the stability and security of our foreign relations.


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7 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Commercial Law

    • Economics

    • International Trade Law

    • Law and Economics

    • Law and Society

  • Journal title
    • Seattle Journal for Social Justice

  • Volume
    • 5

  • Pagination
    • 505-532

  • Date submitted

    7 September 2022

  • Keywords