Embedding free trade. The regulation of international trade in Belgium (1860-1865): commercial treaties, professionalization and power

01 November 2019 → 31 October 2023
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Law and economics
    • International law
    • International trade law
    • Legal theory, jurisprudence and legal interpretation
    • History of law
free trade
Project description

The project seeks to fill the gap in the literature on Belgian trade policy (1860-1865). In complete disproportion to its political, demographic and military weight, Belgium was one of the driving forces behind the creation of a European-wide network of free trade agreements. These commercial agreements moreover comprised clauses with considerable importance for the world today. Nevertheless, so far legal historians have not studied the treaty network nor Belgium’s participation. In addition, free trade in Belgium did not break through without a fight from declining industries and workers, who saw their interests threatened by foreign competition. Other industries viewed free trade as an opportunity and advocated for the abandonment of protectionism. In both cases, this rent-seeking behaviour was accompanied by a variety of legal arguments, often in a vulgarised form. Newspapers also joined the fray and produced a similar vulgarised legal discourse. Such vulgarised legal arguments abounded, given the absence of a developed legal profession for international economic law. Since the early international jurists of the second half of the nineteenth century were not concerned with the economic relations between states, the legitimisation of power had to be “outsourced” to laymen practitioners. This project aims to identify both the legal framework and the law in the minds of these unknown practitioners through the use of innovative, digital tools.