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Influence of Race and Gender on the Structure of the International Trade Regime

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How do race and gender structure the international trade regime?

Race and gender are two forces which structure the international trade regime. In order to allow for a deeper analysis of the trade regime in consideration to development and neoliberalism this essay will focus on race rather than gender, to suggest these concepts give the regime an inherent racial bias. This is important because to speak of a post-colonial world conjures the inaccurate notion that decolonisation in the 20th century created a system of equal power for all states. However, when the international trade regime is considered, assuming a “decolonization of the world” overlooks continuing racial and colonial-esque hierarchies (Grosfoguel, 2011, p.15.) This essay will use post-colonial critiques to argue that race structures the international trade regime because it is based on Western ideas and therefore reproduces Western power. This will be shown by discussing race in relation to the ideas of development and neoliberalism, institutions and current international trade. Comment by Author: Very clear introduction

The word ‘race’ is used in a broad manner to refer to a historically curated division white West and the non-white rest of the world. Race does not refer to a specific population but rather to an Othering of Non-Western identity into the difference against which the West identifies and positions itself (Keyman,1995, p.74-5.) By recognising that this division of race is Western created it allows us to assume that an attitude of othering was implemented into those regulations and institutions created by Western powers in the post-war era. Comment by Author: Might have benefitted for additional references here

Neoliberalism, Development and Race

The international trade regime is made up of ideas, rules and institutions which shape trade interactions. Two of the most powerful ideas in the current regime are neoliberalism and development. When these ideas are considered, they are shown to favour Western superpowers and be grounded in the racialised ideas of the colonial era. This is important given how the shape the institutions and rules of the international trade regime.

Development is a loaded term. Its roots lie in the paternalistic colonial discourse of a ‘modern’ West and ‘primitive’ Other which requires Western intervention to become modern. Although paternalistic empire did end with mass decolonisation of territories, the idea of a need to modernise remained in the emerging international trade regime. This is seen in the division of industrial, capitalist ‘developed’ countries and ‘developing’ countries with economies based on agriculture and commodities yet to become fully industrialised or capitalist (Weinstein, 2008, p.2.) The idea of the non-Western world as lesser and backwards is part of race discourse which equates modernity with Western countries and positions them – and in this case their economics - as superior. Therefore, the international trade regime came to be structured by race because of the influence of these beliefs which allowed the West to position themselves as the dominant influence upon the global economy. As the post-war international trade regime was formed it was done so with the expectation that newly independent countries would have work towards being ‘developed’ Western style economies, thus maintaining something of the modernisation rhetoric of the colonial era. Comment by Author: More attention to referencing would help support your statements, highlighting the debates in the literature and where your argument is situated Comment by Author: Very good point Comment by Author: This is a very good point. Referencing is lacking.

Since the 1980s and the influence of Regan’s US, neoliberalism as an idea has come to hold influence within the international trade regime. Commonly neoliberalism is thought of as minimising the role of the state and allowing for mass privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation. However, Slobodian suggests that neoliberalism’s aims run deeper than this and that it is concerned with “the meta-¬ economic or extra-¬ economic conditions for safeguarding capitalism at the scale of the entire world” creating institutions which entrench states in a new system of competition after colonisation’s end (2018, p.2.) Accepting this definition means accepting that the post-colonial utopia of cooperation and trade on equal terms cannot be taken at face value. Instead, neoliberalism is a means by which wealthy states maintain control over international trade without colonies, by creating a system which privileges their own economies. It shows a continuing Western hegemony in global economics which believes in the benefits of the free market but does not give full consideration or care for the challenges such competition presents to poorer countries. Neoliberalism’s western bias allows for economic power to remain centred in the old colonial metropoles. Neoliberalism is therefore underpinned by racialised thinking and so too then is the international trade regime that neoliberalism has created. Comment by Author: Referecing needed Comment by Author: Very well argued Comment by Author: The link between the two could have been made more apparent in your writing by summarising what you had discussed above

Both development discourse and neoliberalism are based upon racialised ideas as they show a Western assumption of a need to make the non-West more like themselves. The international trade regime is therefore structured by race because it operates under the assumption that the West’s ideas of development and neoliberalism are necessary to trade by virtue of superiority.

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Race and Institutions

This Western superiority and hegemony have been maintained by international institutions which form part of the trade regime. These institutions were formed by Western states and so tend to reflect their values and priorities. Most significantly this has allowed development discourse and neoliberalism to shape international institutions -bringing with them their racial bias. Comment by Author: This could have been made clear earlier in the essay, maybe supporting it with some examples, such as Bretton Woods institutions

The alignment of Western values and the agenda of international institutions is seen in changes to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which in the 1980s shifted from focus on embedded liberalism to neoliberalism. The 1986 Uruguay round of negotiations focused less on development as industrialisation and instead pushed trade liberalisation as the main developmental goal. While Michalopoulos suggests that this round saw developing countries engage more than ever before with the GATT and laid grounds for their effective integration, I side with the argument of Mattoo and Subramanian that for the smallest and poorest countries this brought them into a system where they were forced to liberalise important sectors of the economy whilst never gaining any bargaining power (1999, p.117; 2004,p.390.) This serves as evidence of Slobodian’s belief that neoliberalism is a means embedding Western capitalism across the world after colonialism’s end. Old colonial powers use international institutions to promote their economic policies as the only right and valid way to run an economy. They create an international trade regime which pressurises non-Western countries to follow a Western based model. This shows that institutions help uphold colonial power relations by holding Western ideas as unquestionably superior whilst overlooking that they are based on desires to maintain power over the racialised other. Comment by Author: Good empirical support to your argument, well chosen. Referencing to literature on this shift needed Comment by Author: You presented a very strong argument and this sentence is a good way to summarise it and open up to more specifics. Well done!

This expectation of non-Western countries to follow a Western model has been carried into the WTO era by the institution’s ‘built in agenda’ which means negotiations are not undertaken in segmented rounds but rather on a continual basis. This is symptomatic of assumed Western universalism which fails to fully address the potentially negative impacts of perpetual liberalisation on the poorest WTO members. This upholds a trade regime structured on race by pushing Western economics as the only legitimate means of trade. This is highlighted by Rolland who suggests that the rhetoric of allowing Special and Differential Treatment for poorer countries ascending to the WTO, is undermined by assentation packages which demand greater liberalization commitments than other members without transitional periods. She asks, “why insist on the fiction of a one size-fits- all approach to trade liberalization?” (2012, p.88.) One answer I propose, is that the one size fits all approach is the result of the WTO being shaped by Western hegemony. On the one hand, the WTO has failed to be designed with poorer countries in mind because of the influence of neoliberalism and its Western universalism. However, even more importantly when considering how race structures the international trade regime is that the narrative of development is essentially a Western created fiction. Development, while a powerful idea has no real tangible or legal definition (Rolland, 2012, p. 78.) Instead it is a racist ideological ideal which, having been pushed by the West for decades, has been internalised as a norm by poorer countries – namely former colonies - who join the WTO believing it will help them achieve this elusive development. However, as Rolland shows, this only allows for them to be exploited by the terms of assentation. This exposes the reality of the development narrative as a colonial relic which serves only the West who created and control its terms. This means race structures the international trade regime by allowing continued institutionalised unequal trade arrangements between the West and the rest of the world under the faulty guise that it will prove beneficial to all. Comment by Author: Referencing needed Comment by Author: Year of paper needed in this sentence too Comment by Author: Convincing ending. The only suggestion would be that you could have used the world “institutionalised” from the beginning of the essay, as it summarises what you have previously expressed with entire sentences.

Race and Trade

The WTO Doha round was portrayed by as a beneficial to small economies because it looked to place development at the heart of the trade agenda. However, I argue that since its conception the WTO has made neoliberalism the key to the trade regime. As a result, it has created an international trade regime structured along a racial divide. The WTO is based on the neoliberal push towards universal liberalisation and emphasises trading along the lines of comparative advantage (Jansen, 2002, p.176.) This benefits countries with a comparative advantage in producing high value items which tend to be Western nations. By contrast the system of comparative advantage creates difficulties for countries with a comparative advantage in low value, agricultural goods or commodity products. This is true for many former colonies, who then find they must trade more product for low prices in order to access Western produced high value goods. By promoting such a system, the WTO has reinforced race’s role in the international trade regime by deepening the divide between the West and rest of the world through unequal terms of trade. Although the WTO preaches development, in reality it has proved an effective mechanism for implementing neoliberalism in the sense of Slobodian’s system of competition. Competition shows that the regime is structured by race by highlighting that the regime continually favours the West and therefore maintains its economic power while preventing the growth of other countries. This was seen in Doha where the West used settlement on agricultural trade as a bargaining chip to gain access to goods and services markets in poorer countries (Alessandrini, 2009, p.9) This shows that so long as the West holds dominant institutional power racially divided unequal terms of trade will continue as the West pushes the neoliberal agenda and therefore race will remain a structuring factor of the international trade regime. Comment by Author: Definition needed Comment by Author: Referencing is needed here as well. Comment by Author: Keeping the punch of the essay, well done! Comment by Author: This point could be expanded to make it even stronger


What I have sought to argue is best summarised as a three-step process.

  1. Racialised ideas underpin the Western concepts of development and neoliberalism which are important to international trade.
  2. The West have created international trading institutions based on these racialised concepts.
  3. The international trade regime which these institutions facilitate is structured by a racial divide of West and rest – with the West maintaining advantage.

The current international trade regime does not exist in isolation from the colonial era, this was where the West established its global power. The post-colonial era has not brought down this power but rather has changed the mechanisms by which the West maintain it. Economic development and neoliberalism have become the West’s ideological tenants which it seeks to export through the institutions it has created. It is the assumed Western superiority of these ideas and universalist lack of consideration for poorer nations which means they facilitate a racial divide in global economics of West vs. the Rest. The West’s racialised thinking underpins ideas and institutions and therefore race structures the international trade regime because the regime is one based on inequality of West and Rest. That is why it is necessary to understand that race in the international trade regime is not a particular people’s but rather the Other against which the West positions itself. The international trade regime is structured by race because it is based upon the West’s ambitions to remain superior to this other. Comment by Author: Very good to highlight the historical connection between current international trade regimes and past means of gaining and retaining power through colonisation! Comment by Author: A bit of a repetition, but it does convey the point. You had began the essay using the West and its Othering attempts, here you talk about Rest. It’s still easy to understand what you mean, but I recommend consistency as much as possible.


  1. Alessandrini, D. (2009). Making the WTO ‘More Supportive of Development’? The Doha Round and the Political Rationality of the WTO’s Development Mission. Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal. Volume 1 (13) pp. 1-11. Available at: (Accessed 13/10/2019)
  2. Jansen, M. (2002). ‘Defining the Borders of the WTO Agenda.’ in Daunton, M., A. Narlikar ad R. Stern The Oxford Handbook of the World Trade Organization. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp.161-187. Available at: DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199586103.001.0001 (Accessed 13/10/2019)
  3. Mattoo, A. and A. Subramanian. (2004). The WTO and the Poorest Countries: The Stark Reality. World Trade Review. Volume 3 (3). pp.385-407. Available at: DOI : 10.1017/S1474745604001958 (Accessed 05/10/2019)
  4. Michalopoulos, C. (1999) The Developing Countries in the WTO. World Economy. Volume 22 (1). pp.117-143. Available at (Accessed: 05/10/2019)
  5. Rolland, S. (2012) Development at the World Trade Organisation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp.77 – 88. Available at: (Accessed 13/10/2019)
  6. Slobodian, Q. (2018). Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. London: Harvard University Press.
  7. Weinstein, B. (2008). Developing Inequality. The American Historical Review. Volume 113 (1). pp 1-18. Available at: (Accessed: 30/09/2019)
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Influence of Race and Gender on the Structure of the International Trade Regime. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2023, from
“Influence of Race and Gender on the Structure of the International Trade Regime.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Influence of Race and Gender on the Structure of the International Trade Regime. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 Dec. 2023].
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