This article addresses an important and complex subject relating to the link between international law and economic development. There is broad agreement that trade liberalization and participation in foreign markets play an important role in economic development. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have generally pursued a liberalization route over the past two decades, but their economic performance has been deeply disappointing. In this article, we look at seven countries in the Horn of Africa and examine, from legal and institutional perspectives, the central question of why these countries have failed to translate their comparative advantage, particularly in the livestock sector, into meaningful trade-led economic growth. In order to answer this question, we have reviewed the relevant legal and policy instruments and the literature, visited five of the seven countries, and interviewed different players in the livestock value chain. Analysis of the evidence reveals that the main impediments to trade relate to rising sanitary import requirements in foreign markets and weak institutional capacity within the Horn. The limited technical and financial resources available to these countries also reduce their capacity to meet these standards. Meaningful institutional change requires substantial involvement of local actors and it takes place incrementally and over the long term. International law can play a role in this process by promoting the rule of law and tackling corruption, facilitating capacity-building, and encouraging regional integration.