The topic and its importance: conflict
of norms in public international law
The measure of success which is achieved in eliminating and resolv-
ing conflicts between law-making treaties will have a major bearing
on the prospect of developing, despite the imperfections of the interna-
tional legislative process, a coherent law of nations adequate to modern
What follows is about ‘conflict’, more particularly conflict between ‘norms’ of ‘public international law’. The prime example referred to will be the law of the World Trade Organization. The crucial question in this case study is: how does WTO law relate to other rules of public international law? The internal hierarchy between norms which are part of the WTO treaty2 is also addressed. We not only examine these questions in abstracto. We also assess them in the more concrete context of WTO dispute settlement.
The scope of this work is limited to situations of ‘conflict’ between legal norms. The main question is, therefore: when there is a conflict between two norms, which of the two norms should be applied? This question relates to the hierarchy of norms in international law.
Before suggesting ways to resolve conflict of norms, we shall have to define first what is meant by ‘conflict’. In many instances, what may
1 Wilfred Jenks, ‘Conflict of Law-Making Treaties’(1953) 30 BYIL 401 at 453.
2 When referring to the ‘WTO treaty’ we mean the Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, concluded in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 15 April 1994, published in WTO Secretariat, The Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, The Legal Texts (Geneva, 1995). The sources of the wider notion of ‘WTO law’ are discussed in chapter 2 below, pp. 40–52.