Product Standards, Trade Disputes and Protectionism
Trade disputes over national product standards are a growing source of tension in the international trading system. The usual pattern is that a country introduces a new product standard for all sales of a good in its local market, which is justified as necessary for consumer or environmental protection. Importers into the local market, however, challenge the standard as a 'disguised barrier to trade' or 'green protectionism'. The paper develops a two country political economy model to explain such disputes. It is shown how the political process can lead to a 'political failure' which takes the form of either too many or too few product standards and disagreement between politicians in different countries over the optimal policy. In a second step the model is used to evaluate whether two common proposals to settle or avoid such disputes, mutual recognition of standards and harmonization, can improve the political process.
January 2001 Paper Number CEPDP0486