International agreements on product standards: an incomplete-contracting theory
We propose a theory of international agreements on product standards. The key feature of the model is that agreements are viewed as incomplete contracts. In particular, these do not specify standards for products that may arise in the future. One potential remedy to contractual incompleteness is a dispute settlement procedure (DSP) that provides arbitration in states of the world that are not covered by the ex ante agreement. We identify conditions under which a DSP can provide ex-ante efficiency gains, and examine how these gains depend on the fundamentals of the problem. Another potential remedy to contractual incompleteness is given by rigid rules, i.e. rules that are not product-specific. We argue that the nondiscrimination rule is the only rule of this kind that increases ex ante efficiency for any probability distribution over potential products. Finally we show that, under relatively weak conditions, the optimal ex-ante agreement is structured in three parts: (i) a set of clauses that specify standards for existing products; (ii)a rigid nondiscrimination rule, and (iii) a dispute settlement procedure. Although the model focuses on the case of product standards, the analysis suggests a more general incomplete-contracting theory of trade agreements.
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