International Organization

The Regime Complex for Plant Genetic Resources

Kal  Raustiala  a1 and David G.  Victor  a2
a1 Kal Raustiala is Acting Professor of Law at UCLA Law School, Los Angeles. He can be reached at
a2 David G. Victor is Director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. He can be reached at

Article author query
raustiala k   [Google Scholar] 
victor dg   [Google Scholar] 


This article examines the implications of the rising density of international institutions. Despite the rapid proliferation of institutions, scholars continue to embrace the assumption that individual regimes are decomposable from others. We contend that an increasingly common phenomenon is the “regime complex:” a collective of partially overlapping and nonhierarchical regimes. The evolution of regime complexes reflects the influence of legalization on world politics. Regime complexes are laden with legal inconsistencies because the rules in one regime are rarely coordinated closely with overlapping rules in related regimes. Negotiators often attempt to avoid glaring inconsistencies by adopting broad rules that allow for multiple interpretations. In turn, solutions refined through implementation of these rules focus later rounds of negotiation and legalization. We explore these processes using the issue of plant genetic resources (PGR). Over the last century, states have created property rights in these resources in a Demsetzian process: as new technologies and ideas have made PGR far more valuable, actors have mobilized and clashed over the creation of property rights that allow the appropriation of that value. a


a We are grateful for comments on early drafts presented at Stanford Law School, New York University Law School, Duke Law School, Harvard Law School, and the American Society for International Law. Thanks especially to Larry Helfer, Tom Heller, Robert Keohane, Benedict Kingsbury, Peter Lallas, Lisa Martin, Ron Mitchell, Sabrina Safrin, Gene Skolnikoff, Richard Stewart, Chris Stone, Buzz Thompson, Jonathan Wiener, Katrina Wyman, Oran Young, and two anonymous reviewers for their feedback. Kal Raustiala thanks the Program on Law and Public Affairs at Princeton for support. We also thank our research assistants, Lindsay Carlson, Lesley Coben and Joshua House.