Academic journal article Global Governance

International Regime Complexity and Regional Governance: Evidence from the Americas

Academic journal article Global Governance

International Regime Complexity and Regional Governance: Evidence from the Americas

Article excerpt

In recent years, the Americas have witnessed an unprecedented surge in the number and scope of regional integration agreements, resulting in a complex "spaghetti bowl" of trade and economic relations. What are the consequences of this proliferation of overlapping and parallel institutional commitments among countries in the region? How has this increasing regime complexity affected the dynamics of cooperation among Latin American countries? And what does the case of overlapping regional agreements in the Americas tell us about the effects of regime complexity on regional governance? Drawing on the literature on international regime complexity, I identify three mechanisms through which the proliferation of regional agreements have undermined the effectiveness of cooperation in the Americas: by introducing legal fragmentation and rule ambiguity; by facilitating cross-institutional political strategies that allow countries to behave in opportunistic ways; and through competition and other feedback effects that work to erode regional unity. The article has implications for two broader literatures in international relations: work on international regime complexity and scholarship on regionalism and regional trade agreements. Keywords: regionalism, regime complexity, global governance, institutions.

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AN UNPRECEDENTED EXPANSION IN COOPERATIVE AGREEMENTS GOVERNING a wide range of issue areas in international relations--including trade, money and finance, environment, energy, and security--has taken place in recent times. The proliferation of overlapping agreements and organizations, and the resulting density in international regimes, has generated significant interest among scholars of international relations (IR) and international law (IL). This literature has paid increasing attention to the consequences of growing regime complexity on the politics and the effectiveness of global governance. How does the overlap and interaction among various institutions in a single-issue area affect international politics? To what extent and in what ways does international regime complexity influence the strategies and choices of states and nonstate actors? And does regime complexity facilitate or impair the goals of international cooperation?

In this article, I address these theoretical questions by focusing on the case of trade and economic cooperation agreements in the Americas. Since the 1990s, Latin American and Caribbean countries have pursued a multi-tier strategy of trade liberalization, which has resulted in a "spaghetti bowl" of multilateral, regional, and bilateral commercial agreements. More recently, governments in the region have embarked in broader political and economic initiatives that go beyond commercial integration to include cooperation in money, finance, energy, and infrastructure. As a result, a complex network of nested, overlapping, and parallel regimes characterizes the Western Hemisphere. How has the recent proliferation and increasing diversity of regional arrangements affected the dynamics of cooperation among Latin American countries? More importantly, has the increasing density of economic regimes in the region worked to strengthen or to undermine the effectiveness of collaboration efforts? And what does the case of overlapping regional agreements in the Americas tell us about the effects of regime complexity on regional governance?

In answering these questions, I draw on the burgeoning literature on international regime complexity in IR and IL. This work sheds light on a number of mechanisms through which institutional proliferation and interinstitutional interactions influence the dynamics and sustainability of interstate cooperation. On the one hand, international regime complexity may have positive feedback effects that enhance cooperation and the effectiveness of existing institutions. On the other, institutional overlap could encourage self-interested behavior and competition among actors and regimes, ultimately undermining the success of cooperative initiatives. …

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