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date: 08 December 2022

International Trade and the Environment: Three Remaining Empirical Challengeslocked

International Trade and the Environment: Three Remaining Empirical Challengeslocked

  • Jevan CherniwchanJevan CherniwchanDepartment of Economics, Carleton University
  •  and M. Scott TaylorM. Scott TaylorDepartment of Economics, University of Calgary; NBER

Summary

Considerable progress has been made in understanding the relationship between international trade and the environment since Gene Grossman and Alan Krueger published their now seminal working paper examining the potential environmental effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1991. Their work articulated a simple framework through which international trade and economic growth could affect the environment by impacting: the scale of economic activity (the scale effect), the composition of production across industries (the composition effect), or the emission intensity of individual industries (the technique effect). GK provided preliminary evidence of the relative magnitudes of the scale, composition and technique effects, and reached a striking conclusion: international trade would not necessarily harm the environment.

Much of the subsequent literature examining the effects of international trade and the environment has adopted Grossman and Krueger’s simple framework and builds directly from their initial foray into the area. We now have better empirical evidence of the relationship between economic growth and environmental quality, of how environmental regulations affect international trade and investment flows, and of the relative magnitudes of the scale, composition and technique effects.

Yet, the need for further progress remains along three key fronts. First, despite significant advances in our understanding of how economic growth affects environmental quality, evidence of the interaction between international trade, economic growth, and environmental outcomes remains scarce. Second, while a growing body of evidence suggests that environmental regulations significantly alter trade flows, it is still unclear if these policies have a larger or smaller effect than traditional determinants of comparative advantage. Third, although it is clear the technique effect is the primary driver of changes in pollution, evidence as to how trade has contributed to the technique effect is limited. Addressing these Three Remaining Challenges is necessary for assessing whether Grossman and Krueger’s conclusion that international trade need not necessarily harm the environment still holds today.

Subjects

  • Environmental, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Economics
  • International Economics
  • Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics

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