Sustainable Development in International Law Making and Trade

Sustainable Development in International Law Making and Trade

International Food Governance and Trade in Agriculture

Elisabeth Bürgi Bonanomi

This timely book provides an accessible insight into how the concept of sustainable development can be made operational through its translation into legal terms. Understood as a multidimensional legal principle, sustainable development facilitates coherent international law making. Using this notion as an analytical lens on the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, the book considers the unresolved question of what a sustainable and coherent agricultural trade agreement could look like.

Chapter 4: Notion of legal coherence in the context of sustainable development

Elisabeth Bürgi Bonanomi

Subjects: development studies, law and development, environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, international economic law, trade law, law and development


The previous section argued that the principle of sustainable development brings about optimal options by correct application of the three related duties. Such optimal options can be considered as being ‘legally coherent’, given that legal regimes are coherent if they do not conflict. Coherence theory knows different notions of legal coherence (see section 4.1). Here the argument is made that only those legal settings which comply with both the criteria of formal and substantive coherence constitute an optimal option. Accordingly, sustainable development law shapes coherence theory. At the same time, sustainable development law is influenced by coherence theory, which defines criteria for formal and substantive legal coherence, or defines whether ‘coherent legal frameworks’ share certain characteristics. For a better understanding, main features of coherence theory in international law will be presented in the following section, and the implications of and for international sustainable development law will be explained. Legal conflicts can occur on a horizontal level, both within a legal regime and between legal regimes, and on a vertical level, between different layers of governance. The following reflections will concentrate on horizontal conflicts which are most relevant in a sustainable development context. In legal theory, it is distinguished between various categories of horizontal legal conflicts. However, from a sustainable development oriented perspective, two broad categories can be made out. For instance, the International Law Commission (ILC) differs between a ‘strict’ and a ‘wide notion of conflict’.

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