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Legal Scholar with an Eye for the Big Picture

ROBERT HUDEC, a member of the Cordell Hull Institute’s board, died at his home in Medford, Massachusetts, on March 12. He had been in poor health for some time. Hudec was a leading scholar on international trade law. In particular, he was a trenchant analyst of the dispute-settlement process, as well as a participant in many of its panel findings, under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and then the World Trade Organization.

Hudec was a professor of law at the University of Minnesota in 1972-99, holding the Melvin C. Steen chair for much of that time, before joining the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 2000. At the start of the Kennedy Round of multilateral trade negotiations in the mid-1960s, he was Assistant General Counsel in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, as the office is now called.

In analyzing dispute-settlement issues, Hudec looked beyond legal technicalities to the big picture, to the fundamental problems underlying trade-policy differences between countries.

On the Duopoly in the Trading System

Of relevance to the current impasse in the Doha Round negotiations, Hudec drew attention in Adjudication of International Trade Disputes, published in 1977, to an unintended consequence of the European Community negotiating in the multilateral trading system as a bloc. With the emergence of the Community, and with it viewing the GATT as an Anglo-American creation, the complex structure of the system’s membership was transformed into a duopoly. Between the two main protagonists, the United States and the Community, it became difficult to find genuinely neutral countries.

Hudec’s point was later put more concisely by Jan Tumlir, writing on the deterioration of the multilateral trading system: “What used to be questions of principle and precedent became issues of power and prestige.”

On Special-and-Differential Treatment

In another study for the Trade Policy Research Centre in London, Developing Countries in the GATT Legal System, published in 1987, Hudec challenged the notion of special-and-differential treatment for developing countries, which the developing-country bloc in United Nations began pursuing in the 1970s. He argued that developing countries would do better by fully participating in the multilateral trading system.

Hudec recognized that would not necessarily result in greater access to developed-country markets. But he argued it would enable developing countries to achieve greater control over their own trade policies, providing the “predictability” (institutional stability) that is important to investors, whether domestic or international.

Achieving the fuller participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system was an unstated objective of developed countries in the Uruguay Round negotiations of 1986-94 and it was substantially achieved. In that eighth and last GATT round, developing countries made multilateral commitments for the first time and, as a result of the negotiations being conducted as a single undertaking, they are parties to all the agreements reached.

Special-and-differential treatment for developing countries was severely reduced as a permanent feature of international trade obligations. It was replaced by a recognition that the position of developing countries in the WTO system should only differ from that of developed-country members by having more time, along with technical assistance, in which to implement internationally agreed rules.

Today the more successful developing countries are actively participating in the WTO system, but others are still looking for special-and-differential treatment at every turn, apparently regarding WTO rules as a burden somehow inhibiting their economic growth and development.

Other Publications

Hudec contributed numerous insights to professional journals and volumes of essays. On a larger scale, his first major work was The GATT Legal System and World Trade Diplomacy (New York: Praeger, 1975); his last was Enforcing International Trade Law (Salem, NH: Butterworth, 1993).

With Jagdish Bhagwati, he edited two major volumes of analyses, Aggressive Unilateralism: America’s Section 301 and the World Trading System (Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan University Press, 1990) and Harmonization and Fair Trade (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996). A selection of papers have been published as Essays on the Nature of International Trade Law (London: Cameron May, 1999).

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