What drives the inclusion of environmental provisions in trade agreements? One might suspect that environmentally friendly rhetoric hides economic motives, such as ensuring that foreign regulations do not restrict trade, investors are not attracted by a country’s lower standards, and producers are shielded from foreign competitors.

Are environmental provisions merely window-dressing, covering up protectionist interests?

Until the creation of the TRade and ENvironment Database (TREND), it was difficult to address this question. Interviews and surveys are not reliable sources. Government representatives and negotiators are unlikely to reveal their true objectives if they aim to shield domestic producers from foreign competitors. In contrast, TREND, with its detailed quantitative data, sheds light on this issue.

Overview of environmental provisions in trade agreements between 1985 and 2000. TREND analytics helps explaining the development.
Overview of environmental provisions in trade agreements between 1985 and 2000. TREND analytics helps explaining the development (click to investigate).

Environmental provisions not due to protectionism but democratic election

In a study still to be published, Andreas Dür, Lisa Lechner and myself do not find support for the widespread assumption that environmental provisions primarily serve protectionist purposes. Instead, we find that other drivers motivate trade negotiations, especially electoral pressures in democratic countries from citizens sensitive to environmental concerns. Other studies have found that a large portion of the population – in developed as well as in developing countries – believes that the benefits derived from environmental protection outweigh the costs. We find that this opinion makes democratic countries more willing to commit to environmental protection in trade agreements than autocracies.

There is no reason to be cynical about trade agreements’ environmental provisions after all!

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