The Trade Regime as a Complex Adaptive System: Exploration and Exploitation of Environmental Norms in Trade Agreements
Journal of International Economic Law, Volume 20, Issue 2, (2017), 365-390
34 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2017 Last revised: 14 Oct 2020
Date Written: April 7, 2017
While the trade regime is often analyzed under the metaphoric assumptions of Newtonian mechanics, we propose an alternative, more organic representation. We argue that the trade regime seems to evolve as a complex adaptive system, at the edge of order and chaos. Drawing from a dataset of 280 different types of environmental provisions found in 680 trade agreements, we show how both the trade regime and the norms contained therein unfold by remaining stable (but not static) and dynamic (but not chaotic). Trade negotiators simultaneously explore new grounds by introducing legal innovations and exploiting known territories by adopting existing norms. Our analysis suggests that, even as the regime grows in the number and length of agreements, there are exploratory and exploitative processes at work. These twin processes can explain that the trade regime appears neither more fragmented/heterogeneous nor more centralized/homogenous than it was fifty years ago, despite its substantial expansion. This hypothesis is at the core of the research agenda that this paper lays out.
Keywords: Complexity, Trade Agreements, Environment, Complex Adaptive Systems, Legal Innovation
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