International trade takes professor around the world

By Nicole Safker (JD 12)

6For Assistant Professor Wentong Zheng, both law and life are about transcending borders.

Zheng traveled a long road to his current position. He was born and raised in a small city 200 miles south of Beijing. Zheng attended college and graduate school in Beijing, and moved to the United States in 1998 to pursue a Ph.D. in economics at Stanford University. Four years into the Ph.D. program, he went on to enroll in the J.D. program at Stanford Law School and earned both his Ph.D. and J.D. from Stanford in 2005.

After three degrees earned in postgraduate education, Zheng practiced law at a premier international trade law firm in Washington, D.C., for four years, before joining the faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School in 2009.

Zheng moved to Florida from New York with his family and joined the UF Law faculty in 2011 where he teaches secured transactions, international trade law, and international business transactions.

The secured transactions course focuses on Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code and is a subject that was recently added to the list of topics covered on The Florida Bar Exam.

“This class is very important because the economy runs on credit,” Zheng said.

Zheng transports students across borders through his course on international trade law. That course covers the law and policy of the World Trade Organization, and Zheng said it seeks to answer the question, “to what extent can governments restrict international trade,” whether through tariffs, subsidies, or regulations on the environment, worker safety or health.

International trade law is also the subject of Zheng’s current research.

Currently, Zheng focuses on the international regulation of subsidies. Under the WTO rules, countries are allowed to impose higher duties on imports to “countervail” subsidies conferred by the governments or public bodies of exporting countries. The imposition of countervailing duties, however, may be problematic when the same foreign product is simultaneously subject to antidumping duties, another kind of duties permitted under the WTO rules for cheap foreign products.

“The issue of subsidies is becoming one of the most contentious issues in international trade,” Zheng said. Many international regulatory bodies have gotten involved, including the WTO, but “none appears to have a good solution – no one is taking a holistic view.”

UF Law Associate Professor D. Daniel Sokol said Zheng’s work is important because it presents new and practical ideas to reform the international trade system.

“These are complex issues that are not really well understood, except by a very small group of specialists,” Sokol said. “It’s an area that’s ripe for reform given that more effective rules will make society better off and may in fact blunt some of the worst protection-based tendencies that countries have.

“He’s really pushing a really novel and interesting proposal that hopefully will get some policy traction,” Sokol said.