Competitiveness and Death
Cross-national differences in regulation have become the most significant barrier to international trade. My dissertation attempts to explain why states sometimes choose to reduce these regulatory trade barriers but at other times choose to maintain or increase them. To do this, I examine the international negotiation over regulatory trade barriers in three in-depth case studies, one from each of the three main areas of the international trade in goods: manufacturing, agriculture, and high-technology. The first investigates consumer safety, labor-related domestic content, and environmental regulations in the trade in automobiles in North America and the European Union. The second analyzes mad-cow safety regulations and the trade in beef between the United States and Japan. The third examines intellectual property regulations and the trade in pharmaceuticals between the United States and India. I contend that the best way to explain this variation is by examining the motivations of three sets of actors (businesses, activists, and government officials) and the political bargaining between those three groups. Businesses seek to reduce regulatory barriers when those barriers raise production costs or inhibit market access. They may however choose to end that pursuit if those regulations are cheap to comply with or pursuing their reduction carries major reputational risk. Activists defend regulatory barriers when they perceive those regulations to be the sole effective means to address a societal problem they are concerned about. They may accept a reduction in regulatory barriers if those barriers have low salience or their opposition is bought out through private standards, corporate social responsibility, or some other arrangement in which businesses are not directly regulated by government. Government officials choose whether to side with businesses or activist groups based on their relative prioritization of trade and regulatory independence, their staffing, and whom they identify as their core constituency. Businesses are likely to succeed at reducing a regulatory trade barrier when they can link their desire for that reduction with broader concerns about economic competitiveness while activist organizations are likely to succeed at defending regulatory trade barriers when they can link their desire for maintaining or increasing that barrier with preventing needless death. This dissertation thus adds to the current understanding of international political economy by demonstrating that multinational corporations have less political power than is commonly assumed and by augmenting traditional explanations of trade politics based on economic cleavages through analyzing activists’ engagement in trade politics now that trade politics significantly affects regulations.