International Trade Law and Fragmentation in Water Regulation

30 Pages Posted: 4 Jul 2008

See all articles by Rene Uruena

Rene Uruena

Universidad de Los Andes, Faculty of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 2, 2008


The future is drying out. By 2025, up to 40% of the world's population could be suffering of water scarcity, and yet, the role of law in the governance of water resources seems to be mostly spared of critical scrutiny. At the heart of the matter is our conception of water. Traditionally, water had been perceived as a domestic matter, which only exceptionally required international regulation. The key word was sovereignty - water resources were deemed to belong to states as an attribution of the sovereign, which could only be limited by the rights of other sovereigns.

Such approach has changed substantially in recent years. Water is now a matter of global concern and, consequently, new legal instruments and agencies have emerged. Such regulatory machinery, which is called here 'Global Water Governance', is crucially dependant on three different legal languages, trapping thus the issue in maelstrom of legal fragmentation. Indeed, water supply is simultaneously framed as an environmental problem by environmental lawyers, as an international economic law issue by the WTO and the ICSID and as a human rights matter by the ECOSOC. Three different regimes: one single invaluable resource.

Such fragmented ambivalence has created a certain sense of anxiety, fed by fears of forum shopping, overlapping jurisdictions, and inconsistent case law. The default prescription is coherence. Against such an approach, this paper argues that anxiety should be put to rest, for fragmentation of water law is a creative force, where we may be able to find the answers that traditional international water regulation failed to provide. Rather, it is concluded, emphasis should be made on the mechanisms that enhance transparency and accountability in global water governance.

Keywords: International trade law, International trade, International law, Fragmentation, Water, Water regulation, Water scarcity, Water resources, Global Water Governance, Water supply, Environment, Environmental, Transparency

JEL Classification: F02, F10, F13, F14, F15, Q25

Suggested Citation

Uruena, Rene, International Trade Law and Fragmentation in Water Regulation (July 2, 2008). Society of International Economic Law (SIEL) Inaugural Conference 2008. Available at SSRN: or

Rene Uruena (Contact Author)

Universidad de Los Andes, Faculty of Law ( email )

Carrera Primera # 18A-12
Bogota, DC D.C. 110311

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