Is there any Coherence on the Role of Sub-National Actors in the Evolving Mechanisms for International Trade Interactions? A Comparative Analysis of Belgium and Canada




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Society of International Economic Law


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Peer reviewed


In the post-World War II world economic order, international economic relations have conventionally been regarded as an area reserved for state-to-state relations and to some extent global administrative actors (international and regional organisations). However, with the advent and spread of globalisation, there has been a progressive departure from traditional paradigms, which dictate the patterns of interaction in the international economic system. Essentially, globalisation has challenged the sovereignty status quo of Westphalian statehood by disaggregating traditional governance structures and encouraging the emergence of new ones (sub-national and non-state actors). Focusing specifically on the international trade process (i.e. negotiation and implementation of international trade deals), there appears to be no uniformity in the theoretical conceptualisation of the role for sub-national actors within the international trade system. At present, sub-national governments enjoy varied degrees of acceptance within the various frameworks for international trade interactions of their home states. This is mainly due to the reality that there is a growing intersection between subnational, national and international policy arenas, making the policy space increasingly difficult to neatly delineate. As such, even with more States making adjustments to accommodate sub-national governments in their international trade processes, it is questionable if there is any coherent pattern discernable from these case studies. More so, with international norms still opposed to the participation of sub-national actors in the international scene, most of the actions taken by these actors are classified as ‘wholly domestic policies’, which their central governments are mandated to ensure are in conformity with international obligations. This has made the mapping and understanding of sub-national government’s activities in the foreign sphere difficult to coherently conceptualise. Focusing on Belgium and Canada, this paper seeks to ascertain: whether there is any coherence deducible in the way we conceptualise emerging patterns of engagement by subnational actors in international trade relations. To answer this research question, this paper evaluates the current status of sub-national actors in the international trade interactions of two federal systems - Belgium and Canada. These two countries have been selected for appraisal because they have adopted distinctively dissimilar models for assimilating the participation of sub-national actors into their international trade interactions. The central argument in this paper is that the emerging discourse on sub-national participation in international trade interactions of federal systems is progressively developing into coherent themes. It will be argued that these themes are emerging irrespective of the differing domestic constitutional settings in which sub-national actors are operating.



Sub-national governments, Sub-national actors, International Trade, International Economic Relations, Federalism, International Organisations, Globalisation


Omiunu, O. (2016) Is there any Coherence on the Role of Sub-National Actors in the Evolving Mechanisms for International Trade Interactions? A Comparative Analysis of Belgium and Canada. In: 5th Biennial Global Conference of the Society of International Economic Law (SIEL). Johannesburg, South Africa , July 7-9, 2016. London: Society of International Economic Law. 1-26.


Research Institute

Centre for Law, Justice and Society