The Oxford Handbook of International Business

By Alan M. Rugman; Thomas L. Brewer | Go to book overview

While labor standards have no place in the WTO, the same cannot be said of environmental issues. Trade and the environment are linked in both positive and negative ways as the recent report by the WTO has clearly demonstrated (World Trade Organization (WTO) 1999b). But using trade policy as an instrument of environmental policy is both ineffective in terms of achieving environmental objection and costly in terms of growth. However, in the absence of a strong environmental institution (which the United Nations Economic Program or UNEP is not) using the dispute settlement mechanism to define the boundary between domestic and international policies will not work and the WTO will continue to be under attack. Perhaps as a first step, housing all the multilateral environmental agreements in a reinforced UNEP could help the process but, in effect, only a new WEO (World Environmental Organization) with a clearly defined mission, political influence, and analytic and technical resources could effectively launch the policy dialogue on the relationship between ecology and economy, including, of course, the role of trade. This will not be easy because there really are significant differences between the two models—the economic and the ecological—even if we reject both utopian formulations. The economists' concepts of maximization and trade-offs; of equilibrium; and the primacy of efficiency, yield unambiguous policy statements. A defining characteristic of the ecological sciences is uncertainty, seen most vividly today in the rapid and unprecedented changes in biotechnology. If risk can't be accurately estimated then unambiguous assessments are precluded. Moreover, the ecological paradigm stresses the goals of equality, and community as well as efficiency, so the two paradigms, even in modified versions, will not be easy to reconcile. What the eventual outcome of the debate will be remains to be seen. But an optimist would opine that where there's a political will there's a policy way. The best hope is that, unlike the Asian financial crisis in 1997, which led to much talk about architecture but little action, the ongoing assault on the global trading system may prove to be the catalyst for a serious rethinking of global policy.


References

Barro, Robert J. (1999). 'Inequality, Growth and Investment', National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 7038. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Bell, Daniel (1976). The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York: Basic Books.

Blendon, Robert J., and associates (1999). 'The 60's and the 90's', Brookings Review. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

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