Negotiating environmental protection in trade agreements: A regime shift or a tactical linkage?

  • Noémie LaurensEmail author
  • Jean-Frédéric Morin
Original Paper


The prolific literature on the relationship between the trade and environmental regimes suffers from three shortcomings. First, it myopically focuses on multilateral institutions, while the vast majority of trade and environmental agreements are bilateral. Second, when studies consider preferential trade agreements’ (PTAs) environmental provisions, they are often limited to USA and EU agreements. Third, it examines how the trade and environmental regimes negatively affect each other, leaving aside their potential synergies. Conversely, this article assesses the potential contribution of PTAs to international environmental law. Several PTAs include a full-fledged chapter devoted to environmental protection and contain detailed commitments on various environmental issue areas. One possible scenario is that countries that are dissatisfied with traditional settings for environmental lawmaking engage in a process of “regime shifting” toward PTAs to move forward on their environmental agenda. The alternative is that PTAs’ environmental provisions are the result of “tactical linkages” and merely duplicate extant obligations from international environmental law to serve political goals. We shed light on this question by building on two datasets of 690 PTAs and 2343 environmental treaties. We investigate four potential contributions of PTAs to environmental law: the diffusion of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), the diffusion of existing environmental rules, the design of new environmental rules, and the legal prevalence of MEAs. The article concludes that the contribution of PTAs to the strengthening of states’ commitments under international environmental law is very modest on the four dimensions examined.


Trade agreements International environmental agreements Tactical linkages Institutional interactions Regime shifting 



Central America Free Trade Agreement


Convention on Biological Diversity


Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources


Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora


Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa


European Communities


International environmental agreement


International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships


Multilateral environmental agreement


North American Free Trade Agreement


Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development


Preferential trade agreement


TRade and ENvironment Database


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties


World Trade Organization



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Political Science DepartmentUniversité LavalQuébecCanada

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