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Managing cooperation on climate change: What can we learn from the WTO?


  • Patrick Low
  • Marina Murina


Governments are striving to define the terms of international cooperation to address climate change. This paper considers whether there are lessons to be learned from more than six decades of international cooperation on trade through the GATT/WTO. It argues that in comparison to trade cooperation, the climate change negotiations are taking place against a background of great uncertainty, a long gap in time between actions and results, significant distributional issues, basic differences among parties in terms of the appropriate balance of national responsibilities for action, and sharp differences over policy approaches. All these factors make the negotiations more complex and less likely to result in the kind of detailed policy commitments that characterize the GATT/WTO. Nevertheless, the paper argues that excessive imprecision or reliance or voluntarism at the national level will result in insufficient effort to address the challenges of climate change. A universal agreement with differentiated but clear obligations, a phased approach to the assumption of these obligations, and creative flexibilities offer the best chance of success.

Suggested Citation

  • Patrick Low & Marina Murina, 2010. "Managing cooperation on climate change: What can we learn from the WTO?," The Journal of International Trade & Economic Development, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(1), pages 135-161.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jitecd:v:19:y:2010:i:1:p:135-161 DOI: 10.1080/09638190903327567

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. SĂ©bastien Jean & David Laborde & Will Martin, 2008. "Choosing Sensitive Agricultural Products in Trade Negotiations," Working Papers 2008-18, CEPII research center.
    3. Gardner, Grant W & Kimbrough, Kent P, 1989. "The Behavior of U.S. Tariff Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 211-218, March.
    4. Francois, Joseph F. & Martin, Will, 2004. "Commercial policy variability, bindings, and market access," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 665-679, June.
    5. Jean-Jacques Hallaert, 2005. "Special Agricultural Safeguards; Virtual Benefits and Real Costs—Lessons for the Doha Round," IMF Working Papers 05/131, International Monetary Fund.
    6. Mattoo, Aaditya, 2005. "Services in a development round : three goals and three proposals," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3718, The World Bank.
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