Environmental and Health Protections, or New Protectionism? Determinants of SPS Notifications by WTO Members
The drastic reductions in bound tariffs agreed by WTO members over the past half century have been accompanied by a substantial rise in non-tariff barriers to trade. Many commentators have drawn a causal link between these two phenomena, but there have been few attempts to empirically test this claim. This lack is particularly apparent with regard to Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, despite their increasing prevalence both in the media and in WTO disputes. SPS measures, like other health and environment regulations, ostensibly serve legitimate national policy objectives and cannot be labeled as “green” protectionism merely by considering posterior trade impacts. The determinants of these regulations matter. This paper uses members’ SPS notifications to the WTO at the product level to test the importance of negotiated tariff reductions as a driver for additional SPS regulations. By exploiting time-series, cross-country and cross-product variation in the data we confirm that decreases in bound tariff rates increase the probability of new SPS measures. The policy implications of this result are, however, tempered by our other major finding, namely, that the impact of tariff constraint on SPS notifications is minor compared to that of demographic, governance and environmental variables
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