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Free trade: a governmentality approach

  • Political Science


The content of global free-trade rules and the number of nations beholden to them have expanded dramatically since the Uruguay round of multilateral negotiations; much of it through agreements to form preferential trade areas (PTAs). Drawing on Foucauldian governmentality studies, this paper explores how the spaces of ‘free trade’ are produced through neoliberal spatial and political imaginaries and material practices to construct ‘barriers to trade’ as objects of trade rules. These concepts are explored through a case study of rules of origin in PTAs, increasingly long technical footnotes to trade agreements that aim to sort hybrid flows of commodities and services into single nation-state categories. I argue that projects to create spaces of unimpeded trade reconfigure obstacles and barriers in new and sometimes unexpected ways.

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