Research page

Convergence versus Divergence? Text-as-data and Network Analysis of International Economic Law Treaties and Tribunals

This project employs state-of-the-art text as data analytics and network analysis tools to investigate patterns of convergence and divergence in two areas of international economic law, examining trade and investment: (1) the universe of free trade and investment protection agreements and (2) the network of investment awards and trade panel/Appellate Body reports.

Project Description

International economic law increasingly has to confront problems of a “big data” nature. Faced with a proliferation of thousands of bilateral investment treaties (BITs), hundreds of free trade agreements (FTA) and an ever-growing body of case law rendered by WTO panels or investment arbitrators, it becomes exceedingly important to find new ways to organize and analyze this complex and atomized structure of international economic law.

While in the past it was either prohibitively costly or simply impossible to investigate thousands of treaties or hundreds of awards, the advance of technology and, in particular, of big-data analytics provides new tools to conduct innovative and insightful legal empirical analysis with a view to revealing yet undiscovered structures running through international economic law.

This project employs state-of-the-art text as data analytics and network analysis tools to investigate patterns of convergence and divergence in two areas of international economic law, examining trade and investment: (1) the universe of free trade and investment protection agreements and (2) the network of investment awards and trade panel/Appellate Body reports. This project will make a novel contribution to these efforts by providing big data solutions to big data problems. Revealing the structures of convergence and divergence in both areas of international law using text-as-data analytics and network analysis tools will help policy-makers and negotiators, in particular in developing countries, to better understand the current structures of international economic law and to help evaluate its need for reform.

Research Method

The projects draws from recent advances in computer technology to reveal hitherto undiscovered structures running through international economic law. In particular, this project will use state-of-the-art text-as-data analytics and network analysis to investigate patterns of convergence and divergence in international trade and investment law. Our research will focus on:

  • the universe of free trade and investment protection agreements and
  • the network of investment awards and trade panel/Appellate Body reports

Revealing the structures of convergence and divergence in both areas of international law will help policy-makers and negotiators, in particular in developing countries, to better understand the current structures of international economic law and to help evaluate its need for reform.

State-of-the-art text-as-data

Text-as-data approaches are derived from natural language processing and information retrieval. On one end of the spectrum, text as data may simply denote the use of computers to do what humans used to do: count terms following a human-made coding scheme. This automation of information retrieval drastically reduces the cost of doing research. Large bodies of texts can be assessed in minutes or even seconds. Moreover, once a code retrieving legal information is written, it can be easily adjusted to capture different elements or extended for application to new contexts. Its versatility and low costs thus replace, at least to some extent, the traditional human coder. On the other end of the spectrum, text as data also comprises the use of statistical tools to extract information without human supervision. Having computers run coding schemes accelerates traditional empirical research, but does not revolutionize it. 

 

Social Network Analysis

Text-as-data approaches are derived from natural language processing and information retrieval. On one end of the spectrum, text as data may simply denote the use of computers to do what humans used to do: count terms following a human-made coding scheme. This automation of information retrieval drastically reduces the cost of doing research. Large bodies of texts can be assessed in minutes or even seconds. Moreover, once a code retrieving legal information is written, it can be easily adjusted to capture different elements or extended for application to new contexts. Its versatility and low costs thus replace, at least to some extent, the traditional human coder. On the other end of the spectrum, text as data also comprises the use of statistical tools to extract information without human supervision. Having computers run coding schemes accelerates traditional empirical research, but does not revolutionize it. 

 

Developing a better understanding of patterns underlying international economic law - Visualization taken from the Mapping BITs project (By Wolfgang Alschner and Dmitriy Skougarevskiy)
Citation networks of the WTO AB Reports and Investment Tribunals over time (By Chanya Punyakumpol)

Publications

Presentations

  • Zhang, Weiwei. “EconLawData: Let the Data Speak for Itself.” Presented at the CTEI, Geneva, Switzerland, September 27, 2017.

  • Pauwelyn, Joost. “Rules Behind the Headlines: Using Data to Navigate the Unseen Landscape of International Economic Law.” Presented at the The WTO Public Forum, Geneva, Switzerland, September 27, 2017.

  • Punyakumpol, Chanya. “The Use of Precedent as a Driver of Change: An Empirical Look and the Interplay between Tribunals and States.” Presented at the CTEI - The Geneva International Economic Law Sessions, Geneva, Switzerland, December 14, 2019.

  • Pauwelyn, Joost. “Who Writes the Rulings of the World Trade Organization? A Critical Assessment of the Role of the Secretariat in WTO Dispute Settlement.” Presented at the IELAP Seminar, King’s College London, 2020.

Text-as-Data Analysis of Preferential Trade Agreements: Mapping the PTA Landscape

Towards an Integrated Database of International Economic Law (IDIEL) Disputes for Text-as-Data Analysis

The evolution and current status of De Facto Stare Decisis in international trade and investment tribunals: how to understand the present by looking into the past