Waste of effort? International environmental agreements
Derek Kellenberg, Arik Levinson01 March 2014
Economic theory predicts that international environmental agreements will fail due to free-rider problems, and previous empirical work suggests that such agreements do not in fact reduce emissions. This column presents evidence that the Basel Convention and Ban on trade in hazardous waste has also been ineffective. The authors find no evidence that Annex-7 countries that ratified the Ban slowed their exports to non-Annex-7 countries as the agreement requires.
Jean-Marie Grether, Nicole A. Mathys, Jaime de Melo
To address environmental problems that span national borders, countries have negotiated more than 1,000 international environmental agreements (IEAs). But do they work? According to most theoretical economic models, because of free-rider problems IEAs cannot reduce pollution much below business-as-usual levels (Barrett 1994, 1997; Carraro and Siniscalco 1993; Finus and Maus 2008). Of course, game-theoretic models rarely predict real-world behaviour, which leaves room for hope that IEAs might be effective in practice.
Before the introduction of the euro, it was hoped that by promoting increased intra-regional trade it would increase business-cycle synchronisation within the Eurozone, and thus help it to fulfil the criteria for an optimum currency area. This column presents recent research that compares the evolution of business-cycle synchronisation in the Eurozone and east Asia. While the euro has had some impact on business-cycle synchronisation in the Eurozone, it has done so not through increased intra-regional trade intensity, but rather through some other channel – most likely financial integration.
World-leading trade lawyer, Gary Horlick, talks to Viv Davies about the 2013 WTO Bali ministerial conference and the post-Bali agenda. Horlick discusses food security, agriculture and whether mega regional trade agreements pose a threat to the future of the WTO. They also discuss the potential benefits of the post-Bali agenda for developing countries and the ‘trade transforming’ effect of SMEs and the internet. The interview was recorded in January 2014.
Alejandro Jara talks to Viv Davies about the 2013 WTO Bali ministerial conference and the recent Vox report, ‘Building on Bali’, co-edited with Simon Evenett. Jara presents his views on the post-Bali agenda, mega regional trade agreements and trade protectionism. They also discuss the extent to which the ‘global value chain revolution’ has changed the nature and focus of international trade and trade agreements. Jara concludes by presenting policy recommendations for the way forward. The interview was recorded in January 2014.
The global value chain revolution has changed trade and trade agreements. Trade now matters for making goods as well as selling them. Trade governance has shifted away from the WTO towards megaregional agreements. This column argues that 21st-century regionalism is not fundamentally about discrimination, and that its benefits and costs are best thought of as network externalities and harmonisation costs respectively. More research is needed to determine how the megaregional trade agreements across the Pacific and Atlantic will fit with the WTO.
Trade and trade agreements used to be relatively simple. Trade primarily meant trade in ‘made-here-sold-there’ goods, so 20th-century regional and multilateral trade agreements dealt primarily with barriers to goods crossing borders – especially tariffs. For governments, the key purpose of trade and trade agreements was to help their firms sell things.
Rich nations tend to specialise in manufacturing high-quality products – an achievement that many emerging markets are eager to imitate. But high-quality specialisation could stem either from proximity to high-income consumers, or proximity to high-skill labour. This column discusses research that quantifies the contributions of these two mechanisms by looking at quality-specialisation across US cities. Plant-level data shows that proximity to consumers matters at least as much as differences in plants’ workforces.
The well-known Linder hypothesis (1961) posits that profitably exporting a product requires robust demand for that product in the exporter's home market. Since higher-income consumers tend to purchase higher-quality products, Linder conjectured that demand by local consumers causes high-income countries to produce and export high-quality products. In contrast, the canonical factor-abundance theory of comparative advantage argues that high-income countries’ greater supply of capital and skills is the reason why they export high-quality products.
Global value chains, interdependence, and the future of trade
Pascal Lamy18 December 2013
The emergence of intra-firm trade as the primary component of international trade reflects a global interdependence in the production process. In this column the former Director-General of the WTO argues that this necessitates a re-examination of how we think about – and how we measure – trade between nations. Interdependence allows different sectors to add value, and complicates the implementation of trade barriers. Only with a modern perspective can effective trade policy be conducted.
Andrew B. Bernard, Andreas Moxnes, Karen-Helene Ulltveit-Moe
Today, the expansion of global value or production chains means that most products or services are assembled with inputs from many countries. We may still think in terms of Ricardo’s world of trade between nations, but in reality most trade now takes place within globe-spanning multinational companies and their suppliers. The results of this ‘trade in tasks’ are all around us.
The WTO signed a mini-package of trade initiatives in Bali last week. This column argues that the ‘Bali package’ is welcome but not enough. Without some new initiative or direction, the WTO looks set to drift for the next few years. The WTO cannot move ahead until the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic ‘mega-regionals’ are done or dead. In the meantime, the WTO should promote research and discussion on how 21st-century trade issues could be brought into the WTO when the time is ripe.
Bali’s success got multilateralism out of the emergency room and into the intensive care unit – but we don’t know whether the operation was a success. The Bali package is only distantly related to the heart of the 2001 agenda (WTO 2013). Indeed, the ‘Bali Package’ should really be called the ‘Bali Ribbon’ since very large parts of it were already being implemented unilaterally by members (Meltzer 2013).
While quality upgrading is always viewed positively in both policy and academic circles, little is known about the macro implications for countries of specialising in high-end varieties. This column presents evidence that high-end variety exporters are less sensitive to trade costs. This implies a greater geographic diversification of exports, which compensates for their higher sensitivity to demand shocks and smoothes aggregate volatility. It also increases export growth when business opportunities arise in distant markets.
Vox columns by Peter Schott (2007) and Fontagné et al. (2008) have argued that developed countries specialise in the production of high-end varieties – expensive varieties of a product which have specific attributes such as reputation, branding, or quality that make them appealing to consumers in spite of their higher price. A few papers have examined the implications of such a specialisation for the labour market (e.g. Verhoogen 2008). However, while policymakers and academics encourage specialisation in high-end varieties, the macroeconomic consequences have not yet been examined.
Does policy uncertainty reduce economic activity? Insights and evidence from large trade reforms
Kyle Handley, Nuno Limão23 November 2013
The impact of policy uncertainty on economic activity is potentially important, but controversial because it is hard to identify and quantify. Recent research provides a framework to identify the impacts of policy uncertainty on firm decisions, and finds it has strong effects in the context of international trade. China’s WTO accession secured its most-favoured nation status in the US, and the evidence shows this reduction in uncertainty can explain a significant fraction of its export boom to the US.
The impact of policy uncertainty on economic activity is an issue traditionally associated with developing countries. Since 2008, however, the spotlight has shifted. Governments’ responses to the Great Recession and the Eurozone crisis have raised considerable uncertainty about the future policies of advanced economies. Examples include the timing and size of financial bailouts, government expenditures, and the risk of sovereign-debt default. These crises have also heightened trade policy uncertainty.