Abstract. Laws and regulations bear a direct effect on all social phenomena, and virtual water flows are no exception. Domestic and international rules hinder or encourage food- and water-related behaviors, such as water saving and ecosystem protection, trade in natural resources and agricultural goods, and prioritisation of water sages. International law has the lion’s share in the setting of constraints and the definition of incentives as to the policies concerning food and water: thus, it can easily be assumed that transnational virtual water flows will be somehow affected by a great number of international rules impacting on States’ and private actors’ conducts. Whereas a punctual estimation of this impact cannot be done on a purely legal basis, jurists can advance research on virtual water by identifying all those rules that are likely to influence, both directly and indirectly, the dimension and the direction of virtual water flows. This is the main aim of this working paper, which reviews the main branches of international law that have to do with water- and food-related policies, describing on the one hand their basic features and functioning, and on the other hand the way they might intersect the path of virtual water.
The working paper is composed of five thematic sheets devoted to five different ambits of international law (trade law, investment law, environmental law, water law and human rights law), introduced by a “chapeau” that tries to categorise the kinds of relation each of them entertain with the issue of virtual water. Although these causal relationships are, at a close analysis, quite complex, a simplified scheme could resemble this one (arrows stand for the influence something has on something else).