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Marci Hoffman , is the Foreign, Comparative & International Law Librarian at the University of Minnesota Law Library. In addition to her reference and research expertise, Marci also teaches a seminar on foreign and international legal research. She often lectures on international and foreign legal research and Anglo-American legal research; is one of the Faculty Advisors for the Minnesota Journal of Global Trade; and works closely with the students on International Moot Court. Marci is the author of an extensive Bibliography for Research on International Human Rights Law, 6 Minn. J. Global Trade 200 (1996), along with Prof. David Weissbrodt. Marci and Prof. Weissbrodt also designed and maintain the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library on the Web. She is also the editor and an author of the ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law.
(Archived January 1, 1999)
Goods and services are sold every day across national boundaries. These transactions are subject to a myriad of laws, regulations, restrictions and special arrangements. This complex web of laws and regulations is comprised of unilateral measures, meaning national or domestic laws, and further complicated by the international law expressed in trade agreements. There are basically three levels of international trade agreements: bilateral relationships (Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement), multilateral arrangements (GATT and the WTO), and regional agreements (NAFTA, MERCOSUR).
When conducting research in international trade, often the first step is to locate the relevant treaties. Since international trade is such a complex area, there is a need for information beyond locating the text of international agreements. Many international organizations focus on trade and transnational business transactions and provide useful resources. U.S. governmental agencies offer many resources to assist companies with import and export ventures. Guides on doing business in a particular country may be of use in determining the impact of trade agreements, applicable domestic laws, and other country conditions that might affect trade. Finally, statistics on economic growth, imports and exports, and other data are often needed in order to make sound decisions. These are just a few of the many different pieces of information needed in this complex and ever expanding area.1
One guide cannot possibly provide access to all trade and related information. The focus of this guide is on some of the major international trade sources available on the Internet. Specifically, this guide will cover the following:
- starting points (research guides, bibliographies, and collections of links)
- collections of international trade agreements and resources for the major multilateral trade agreements and the regional trading areas
- selected international organizations
- U.S. government resources
- guides for doing business in other countries
While the Internet is a good tool for accessing information about international trade, it cannot provide all of the materials needed for researching this topic. Many valuable secondary sources are not available on the Internet. Most of the information and documents referred to in this guide are provided by international organizations, the U.S. government, or an educational institution and are free of charge, but a few fee-based sites are included as well. Care should be taken when citing to and relying upon any document or information obtained from the Internet.
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As with any topic, it is helpful to start with a guide or list of links – a place where someone else has done some of the work for you. These resources can be of particular use to the researcher who is unfamiliar with the area of international trade. In addition to these electronic guides, there are several useful print sources.2
Trade Winds Across the Plains: International Trade Resources in the Information Age, Jean M. Wenger, presented at the Midwest LibraryFest, October 1998. Comprehensive list of annotated links to international trade sites and related topics (domestic law, antitrust, banking, etc.). A great place to begin exploring the resources available on the web for this topic.
American Society of International Law, Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law. The chapters on researching treaties, the UN, and private international law are particularly helpful for the international trade researcher.
Researching International Trade, Marci Hoffman, University of Minnesota Law Library, August 1998. The guide focuses on print and electronic sources for researching the U.S.- Canada Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, and the GATT/WTO. This guide was prepared for use at the University of Minnesota Law Library.
The U.S. Trade Commission (USTC) offers a “Bibliography of Trade-Related Law Journal Articles.”
Encyclopedia of Law and Economics, International Trade, Alan O. Sykes, University of Chicago School of Law. This chapter provides a survey of the law and economics literature on international trade topics. It contains a nice bibliography of print sources and the Encyclopedia provides links to related web sites.
Bibliography on the CISG and UNIDROIT Principles, Pace University School of Law. Contains references to print and electronic sources and can be searched by keywords. This resource is available in a number of different languages.
The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods: Guide to Research and Literature, by Claire Germain, Cornell University Law School. Detailed research guide that explains the history of the agreement and provides references to relevant print and electronic sources.
The Harvard Law Library offers two pertinent research guides: NAFTA Research Guide and the World Trade Organization (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Both guides contain references to print sources contained in the Harvard Law Library as well as links to relevant web sites.
Specialized Bibliography on MERCOSUR. International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada provides this bibliography of links to information on the web related to MERCOSUR.
Hieros Gamos, Guide to Global Trade Law. Extensive collection of links to agreements, national regimes, other sources of information, discussion groups, and publications.
Several other good collections of links are available. Index to Sources of Trade Information on the Internet, compiled by the International Trade Centre, the site contains substantial collections of statistics, market information, and trade opportunities. See also the University of Bologna, Research Guide to International Law on the Internet: International Trade Law and Francis Auburn (Associate Professor, University of Western Australia), International Trade Law. The Federation of International Trade Associations provides International Trade Web Resources, an annotated list of more than 1000 links to web sites related to international trade. This list is indexed and divided into 21 topics and is searchable by keywords.
International Economic Law Group of ASIL has a good assortment of links to trade-related sites, plus other useful information, such as full-text scholarly papers and journal articles, and other research tools.
Business related guides might also be of interest, see International Business Law Resources on the WWW.
The sites listed below provide the complete text of many international trade agreements plus links to a variety of other useful trade-related sites on the web. Most of these web sites are good places to begin one’s research.
International Trade Law Monitor. If I only had one place to go for access to the full-text of major trade related agreements, this would be it. This web site also has many international agreements and documents in areas related to trade (contracts, sales, arbitration, etc.). The site is well organized and offers a subject index, a search mechanism, and links to other sites.
Trade and Commerical Relations (Multilaterals Project, Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy). A good collection of basic trade related agreements with links to a few important treaty collections and treaty secretariats. This site also provides a searching mechanism.
Texts of Trade Agreements (OAS). This is an excellent collection of trade agreements between countries in the Western Hemisphere (both bilateral and multilateral). Many of documents are available in English, French, and Spanish. The home page of the OAS Trade Unit contains information on investment and Dispute Settlement (Andean Community, GATT, NAFTA, and WTO), and links to many good sources for trade in the Americas.
Trade and Related Agreements (Treaty Compliance Center, U.S. Dept. of Commerce). Contains the texts of most trade agreements to which the United States is a party and related documents that are important to business. Documents are arranged by agreement or treaty title, by country/signatory, and by issue. In addition, the texts in the database can be searched by keyword.
Private International Law Database (U.S. Dept. of State). The section of the database that covers “Trade and Business Transaction Law” contains the text of agreements on a variety of areas: EDI, arbitration, finance and banking, and contracts. There are also sections covering model laws and rules, conventions which the U.S. is a party, and other useful information.
UN Treaty Collection. This site contains the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS), a collection of treaties and international agreements registered or filed and recorded with and published by the Secretariat since 1946. Another very important tool available at this site is Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General, a publication that provides information on the status of 486 major multilateral instruments deposited with the Secretary-General. Currently, access to this site is free once you register, but this is likely to change soon and a subscription will be required.
National Law Center for Inter-American Trade. Contains legislative materials from various Latin American countries, including access to Mexican legislation and the Mexican Diario Oficial. The database contains an extensive collection of links to other legal information resources relating to trade and the Americas, including the full-text of certain trade agreements. While this is a fee-based service, much of the international trade information is available for free. There is also a biweekly newsletter, Inter-American Trade Report, which covers trade, commerce, and legal developments across Latin America.
U.S. House of Representatives, Internet Law Library, Treaties and International Law. This site contains links to important trade treaties and international documents.
B. Major Multilateral and Regional Agreements
Many of the organizations or secretariats for important trade agreements have created web sites aimed at providing information about specific trading arrangements. If you cannot locate a specific trade agreement below, be sure to also check some of the collections mentioned above.
Andean Community. Based on the Cartagena Agreement, this pact seeks to harmonize the trade and investment regimes of its members. Its web page contains information about the community, legislation and jurisprudence, and publications and documents. Some of the pages are available only in Spanish.
CARICOM (Caribbean Common Market). Established in 1973 to from a common market for trade and to promote economic cooperation among its member states. The site contains information about CARICOM, documents, projects and news.
MERCOSUR (Southern Cone Common Market Treaty). Its aim is to dismantle trade barriers and encourage cross-border investment. Most of the important documents are in Spanish. See also the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada MERCOSUR site. This is a very comprehensive site that contains treaties related to MERCOSUR, statistical information, recent developments on integration, and country profiles.
NAFTA Secretariat. Trilateral free trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The Secretariat focuses on the dispute settlement provisions of the NAFTA Agreement and the site contains the rules and the panel reports as well as links to other sites.
Other NAFTA sites include NAFTANET which contains a good deal of information related to NAFTA – text of the agreement, links to other sites, etc. See also the NAFTA Home Page (U.S. Dept. of Commerce), and LANIC’s (University of Texas at Austin, Institute of Latin American Studies) NAFTA Resources page. Another excellent resource is the NAFTA page posted by the U.S. Customs Office.
UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) Database. The CISG is referred to as the “Uniform International Sales Law of countries that account for two-thirds of all world trade.”3 This is a very comprehensive site on the CISG. It contains the text of the agreement, analysis, cases, scholarly materials, and more. The links to other international trade databases includes CISG web sites around the world. Other CISG related sites include UNILEX, a collection international case law and bibliography on the CISG, and the UNCITRAL which site contains the text of the agreement, ratification information, and abstracts of case law that refer to the CISG. For more information about the international sale of goods and associated topics, see the Private International Law chapter of the ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law.
World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO agreements provide for the legal framework for international commerce and trade policy. In the past getting the documents from the GATT was always a challenge unless you had access to the GATT microfiche (which most folks did not have). Now the WTO has entered the electronic age and the web site is the mechanism the WTO has chosen for disseminating information. Not only does this site have information about various trade topics (goods, services, development, etc.), more importantly, it contains the full-text of most documents distributed by the WTO since its creation in January 1995. The legal texts (Uruguay Round agreements) are also available. Another important feature of this site the dispute settlement section (including panel reports). The International Trade Monitor has a nice collection of WTO agreements and other documents. For information on print and electronic sources related to WTO dispute resolution, see WTO Panel Decisions, compiled by Lyo Louis-Jacques, University of Chicago Law Library.
Listed below are some of the major international organizations involved in trade and related issues. In order to locate other international organizations, see the Union of International Organizations, International Organization Web Site or the Northwestern University Library, International Organizations page. Both sites provide extensive lists of links to international organizations of all types.
ALADI. (Latin American Integration Association). Its goal is to form reciprocal trade agreements in this region. The web site is only available in Spanish, but it does contain documents, publications and information about the organization.
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Its purpose is to sustain regional growth and development by strengthening the trading system between its members and reducing barriers to trade and investment. The APEC web site contains extensive information about the organization and its activities, plus many full-text documents.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Member Countries are involved in a joint effort to promote economic cooperation and the welfare of the people in the region. The site contains information about the organization’s activities, documents, summit information, and country profiles.
European Union. EUROPA is the official web site of the EU. It contains information on the institutions, policies, official documents and laws. For European Union law, see EUR-Lex which contains the legislation, treaties and case law. This site also provides the text of EU treaties.
G7 & G8. This group of industrialized nations meets to deal with the major economic and political issues facing their domestic economies and the international community as a whole. The site is a good collection of policy documents, scholarly writings, research, and links to related sites.
International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF is an independent international organization of the UN. Its purpose is to promote international monetary cooperation, expanding international trade and exchange stability, international balance of payments, etc. The web site contains information about the IMF’s policies and activities, rules, regulations and documents. The user can also search the database for relevant publications.
Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The primary task of the OECD is to enable its members to consult and cooperate with each other in order to achieve the highest sustainable economic growth in their countries and improve the economic and social well-being of their populations. The web site has the full-text of many documents, information about publications and statistics. There is also a page devoted to trade. Check out the links to Other Trade Sites, including national trade agencies, statistical agencies, and international and regional organizations.
Trade and Development Centre. A joint venture between the World Bank and the WTO. The site contains forums, guides, training information, and links to other trade-related sites.
World Bank. Its purpose is to provide funds and technical assistance to facilitate economic development. The web site is for the World Bank Group which is composed of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the International Development Association, and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. The site provides information about these institutions plus documents and data for businesses involved in international trade. The International Trade Division has its own page and it contains working papers and other resources.
United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). This organization is the core legal body of the UN charged with harmonization and unification of international trade law. The web site contains the documents resulting from the work of UNCITRAL (including sales of goods, arbitration, etc.), ratification information, abstracts of case law, and other information.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The principal organ of the United Nations General Assembly in the field of trade and development and its aim is to promote better international trading conditions for developing nations. UNCTAD publishes annual reports related to trade (Trade and Development Report, World Investment Report) and information about these and other UNCTAD documents are available on the web site.
Many U.S. government agencies promote free trade and offer resources in support of these efforts.
International Trade Administration (Dept. of Commerce). The ITA is charged with assisting and encouraging U.S. exports and ensuring that U.S. businesses have equal access to foreign markets. As such, this web site offers a variety of resources for conducting business overseas. The Regions and Countries page provides access to many ITA web sites that focus on the leading markets of the world. The markets include Africa and the Near East, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Western Hemisphere. The Commercial Service offers Country Commercial Guides.
Another service provided by the ITA is the Trade Information Center. This is a comprehensive resource for information on all federal government export assistance programs. The information provided ranges from news and current events, export programs, tariffs and customs information, and country and regional market information.
Market Access and Compliance (Dept. of Commerce). This site offers U.S. companies a wide range of information on accessing foreign markets. One of the featured sections is the Trade Compliance Center. This database provides the text of trade agreements, foreign market information, success stories, and links to other sites.
The Dept. of Commerce also offers the FEDWORLD database, a comprehensive central access point for searching, locating, and acquiring government and business information. Search for government reports and other publications through the NTIS International Trade and Business Bookstore.
United States Trade Representative. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. international trade, commodity, direct investment policy, and leading or directing negotiations with other countries on such matters. The site offers agreements negotiated by the USTR, documents, reports and press releases.
International Trade Commission. An independent, quasi-judicial federal agency that provides objective trade expertise to both the legislative and executive branches of government, determines the impact of imports on U.S. industries, and directs actions against certain unfair trade practices. This site contains documents, reports and publications, hearings, links to trade resources, and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule.
U.S. Business Advisor. Provides resources and information about exports and imports, investment, and financing.
GLOBUS and NTDB. Offered by STAT-USA, this site offers daily trade leads from the Trade Opportunities Program (TOPS), as well as many other sources of trade information. The International Trade Library is a comprehensive collection of over 40,000 documents related to international trade. All documents are searchable by keyword, country or product. Also available on this site are the Country Commercial Guides.
U.S. Customs Service. The Importing/Exporting section of the site has a good deal of information about rules & regulations, procedures, statistics and also provides useful forms.
The sites listed below provide guidance on doing business in various countries or regions, information about importing and exporting products, and other useful pieces of advice about the business climate and local customs. For other information about specific countries (legal system, government information, and so forth), see Library of Congress Country Studies, Foreign National Governments Page (International Documents Task Force) or The Electronic Embassy.
Background Notes (U.S. Dept. of State).
BISNIS (Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States, U.S. Dept. of Commerce)
CEEBICnet (Central and Eastern Europe Business Information Center, U.S. Dept. of Commerce)
Country Commercial Guides (Trade Compass)
Country Commercial Guides (STAT-USA)
Country Fact Sheets (Export-Import Bank of the U.S.)
Country Guides (Singapore Trade Development Board)
Country Library (Tradeport)
Country Profiles (Canadian International Development Agency)
Country Reports on Economic Policy and Trade Practices (U.S. Dept. of State)
Doing Business Around the World (Ernst & Young)
Doing Business Guides (Lex Mundi)
Lex Africa Business Guides (Werksmans Attorneys)
Regions and Countries (International Trade Administration)
Trade Compliance Center Country Guides (U.S. Dept. of Commerce)
Trade Links by Country (University of Texas – Latin American Network Information Center)
These statistical sources provide data on country and regional economic growth, imports and exports, commodities, country trade information, and other financial data. Some of the sites listed below also collect statistics on demographics, socio-economic factors, and population.
EUROSTAT (Statistical Office of European Communities)
Foreign Trade Statistics (U.S. Census Bureau)
International Trade Statistics (STAT-USA)
Office of Trade & Economic Analysis (ITA, U.S. Dept. of Commerce)
Statistics (UN/ECE Statistical Office)
Statistics Division (UN, Department of Economic and Social Affairs)
STATLinks: Links to Statistical Resources on the Internet (USDA & U.S. Census)
Trade Statistics (WTO)
The sites listed above just scratch the surface of the complex topic of international trade. These sources should provide the basic agreements and offer other resources for obtaining more trade-related information. The practitioner and the researcher may find themselves delving into other areas related to international trade, such as exports and imports, contracts, antitrust, agency and distribution, insurance, letters of credit, taxation, arbitration and dispute resolution. Not to mention the need for the domestic laws of the country where the goods and service are being bought or sold. Some of the guides and links mentioned in section II of this guide provide guidance on researching these related topics. Look for more guides on trade and transnational business transactions in future issues of LLRX.
For more information about the complexity of this subject, see Ralph H. Folsom et al., International Trade and Investment in a Nutshell (St. Paul, Minn., West Publishing Co., 1996) and Ralph H. Folsom et al., International Business Transactions in a Nutshell (St. Paul, Minn., West Publishing Co., 1996). <back to text>
Such sources include The International Lawyers Deskbook (Washington, DC: Section of International Law and Practice, ABA, 1996), Mae N. Schreiber, International Trade Sources: A Research Guide (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997) and Introduction to International Business Law: Legal Transactions in a Global Economy (Gitelle Seer and Maria Smolka-Day eds., New York: Oceana Publications, 1996). For definitions of trade terms, acronyms and abbreviations, see Jerry M. Rosenberg, Dictionary of International Trade (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1994). <back to text>
Pace University School of Law, Pace Law Library and the Institute of International Commercial Law, UN Convention on Contracts for International Sale of Goods (CISG) Database. <back to text>