Copernican Revolution or Green Protectionism?

The Sustainability Revolution in International Trade Agreements (Kathleen Claussen & Geraldo Vidigal, eds, Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2024)

Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2023-48

16 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2023

See all articles by Timothy Meyer

Timothy Meyer

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: August 18, 2023

Abstract

Contemporary trade agreements include an ever-expanding set of environmental and sustainability commitments which, if violated, can lead to the imposition of trade barriers. Likewise, the world’s leading developed economies have begun rolling out green trade barriers in the form of product bans, border adjustments, and discriminatory subsidies. This chapter argues that the growth of sustainable trade policies reflects two phenomenon. First, it reflects the ordinary historical ebb and flow of unilateralism and multilateralism. While at some points in history multilateral institutions have taken the lead in shaping trade policy, at other times unilateralism has played a more important role. We are in the latter moment, but that does not mean that the former’s time has passed. Second, like all policies, green trade policies usually pursue multiple objectives. The fact that green trade policies often have mixed motives means that assessing their effects through a Puritan lens is a fool’s errand. The quest nations are on today is not for trade policies that promote sustainability in the least trade restrictive way possible. Instead, they are looking for policies that can generate the political support to address urgent environmental crises while still promoting economic growth.

Part I describes the growth of environmental provisions within trade agreements themselves, and compares that trend to the growth of domestic trade measures designed to address environmental problems in ways that arguably violate international trade agreements. Part II argues that, at least in the short term, this second kind of measures is likely to be more influential than trade and sustainability (TSD) provisions in trade agreements. This influence occurs in large part by shaping subsequent multilateral negotiations, as well as the implementation and interpretation of existing multilateral provisions. Part III argues that trade agreements and unilateral measures that raise (or authorize raising) trade barriers to tackle environmental problems are a key ingredient of addressing environmental problems and ultimately of preserving the system of liberalized trade.

Keywords: international trade, trade agreements, industrial policy, carbon border adjustments, deforestation, sustainability

JEL Classification: K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Meyer, Timothy, Copernican Revolution or Green Protectionism? (August 18, 2023). The Sustainability Revolution in International Trade Agreements (Kathleen Claussen & Geraldo Vidigal, eds, Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2024), Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2023-48, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4545078 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4545078

Timothy Meyer (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
260
Abstract Views
728
Rank
220,419
PlumX Metrics