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

  • Introduction
  • Institutional Documents
  • Law and Economic Development
  • Globalization and International Law
  • International Trade
  • International Law and Economic Theory
  • Human Rights and Economic Development
  • Critical Scholarship
  • Historical and Third World Approaches to International Law

International Law International Law and Economic Development
Samuli Seppänen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0175


A large body of scholarship has emerged to examine specific aspects of the relationship between international law and economic development (although comprehensive treatments of this question are somewhat rare). This scholarship covers a diverse array of academic projects and subfields of international law, including international development law, international economic law, and international human rights law. A typical research topic in this field concerns the potential contribution of international investment protections to a country’s economic development (see Law and Economic Development and International Trade). Some scholars have examined this question, and the more general impact of international law on economic development, through the methods of economic theory (see International Law and Economic Theory). Others have focused on the constraints of international law on domestic policymaking, highlighting the specific concerns of developing countries (see Historical and Third World Approaches to International Law). Yet others have examined development policies and objectives, including economic goals, through international human rights law (see Human Rights and Economic Development). The role of international law in economic development is also discussed in area studies, in particular, with regard to China and other East Asian countries. These countries are commonly seen to have developed economically in spite of their selective compliance with international norms (see Area Studies).

Institutional Documents

As mentioned in the Introduction, comprehensive analyses of the relationship between international law and economic development are rare. Most studies focus on specific aspects of that relationship, such as the impact of trade agreements (see International Trade). Also, policy documents published by international development organizations discuss the relationship between international law, domestic law, and economic development. Tschofen and Parra 1991 is a useful source for studying the World Bank’s approach to law and economic development in the beginning of the second coming of the law and development movement, whereas World Development Report 2002 illustrates the “rule of law” dogma of the mature phase of this movement. World Development Report 2017 is the Bank’s attempt to move away from “rule of law” advocacy to a more nuanced analysis of law and economic development. Human Development Report 2000 aims to incorporate human freedoms (partly defined on the basis of human rights) into development programming.

  • Tschofen, Franziska, and Antonio R. Parra, eds. The World Bank in a Changing World: Selected Essays and Lectures. Vol. 1. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1991.

    This text documents the views on law and development of Ibrahim F. I. Shihata, who served as the general counsel of the World Bank in the 1980s and 1990s. Two subsequent volumes were published in 1995 and 2000.

  • UNDP. Human Development Report 2000: Human Rights and Human Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    This report adapts Amartya Sen’s work on human freedoms and capabilities into UNDP’s policy framework. The report conceptualizes economic growth as a means to expanding human freedoms.

  • The World Bank. World Development Report 2002: Building Institutions for Markets. Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2002.

    This paper includes a section on the legal system, which describes the “rule of law” as a constituent element of good governance.

  • The World Bank. World Development Report 2017: Governance and the Law. Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2017.

    This paper seeks to make a transition from the World Bank’s efforts to strengthen “the rule of law” in developing countries to the more nuanced analysis of the “role of law” in development. The focus of the report is on the distribution of power and bargaining processes.

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