In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Economic Law

  • Introduction
  • Definition and Conceptualization
  • Political and Economic Underpinnings
  • Sources

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International Law International Economic Law
Asif Qureshi, Xuan Gao, Jeong Ah Lee
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0092


In general, international economic law (IEL) is concerned with the governance of international economic relations between states as they affect individuals in a state, including in particular their relations inter se across national boundaries. As such, the principal preoccupations of IEL involve international trade, international investment, international monetary and financial law, and international development law. A traditional drive for this normative framework has been the facilitation of the optimal allocation and use of national and international resources for the development of all the people of the world. Defining IEL is a complex process involving a bundle of questions that need to be understood at the outset before any firm definition is articulated. The process involves first and foremost the “is” question: What is IEL? This question involves a consideration of the legal sources of IEL, the subject matter that is the object of IEL disciplines, and the subjects that are subject to IEL. Second, the process involves the “ought” question: How should IEL be redefined? This can be in terms of its sources, its subjects, and subject matter, even in terms of its very objectives. Third, the process involves refocusing from a global perspective to a closer, microlevel scrutiny of the subject. At this level, the questions focus on defining the sets of regimes that make up the international economic system and configuring them in relation to each other and the international economic system as a whole, including the system of IEL in the wider international order. Fourth, another subtext of the process of defining IEL involves inquiring into how international economic governance should be allocated among the state, region, and multilateral levels. Finally, the process of defining IEL is a dynamic process and involves a constant appraisal of whether international economic relations are developing in such a manner that corresponding adjustments to the definition of IEL are called for. The process of defining IEL in this manner elevates the question from a mere academic discourse to one of the most profound inquiries in international economic relations, one that is highly relevant to informing our responses to contemporary international economic problems and that is ubiquitous in all manner of national, regional, and multilateral economic governance. The approach to IEL herein is from the perspective of public international law, with a focus on the traditional preoccupations with world trade, money and finance, investment and taxation, and international development law.

General Overviews

Historically there have been very few general textbooks in IEL. This remains the case. This is to be contrasted with public international law, wherein there have been and continue to be more established textbooks worldwide, including many from the same jurisdiction, that is to say, the United Kingdom. Those general textbooks that have emerged have generally mirrored the phenomenal development of the subject, with the preoccupations of the dominant states driving developments in international economic relations. Moreover, because of the growth of the subject, generalists in IEL are becoming rare, even though the modern exigencies of the subject call for a “global” perspective to it. Thus, trade specialists and writings on world trade law have become abundant while monetary and development specialists are fewer. Be that as it may, the generalist treatment of the subject can either be relatively neutral or from a particular perspective. Currently there are two general works in the English language of note: namely, Qureshi and Ziegler 2019 and Herdegen 2016 (cited under Textbooks).

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