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In the 1980s, almost all of the anti-dumping cases were initiated by the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, and New Zealand. By the 2000s, countries like Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, and India were filing the majority of the anti-dumping cases before the WTO. As the number of anti-dumping cases has increased, and as countries such as the United States and the European Union feel targeted by the anti-dumping actions of others, the WTO may well propose some additional guidelines to limit the reach of anti-dumping laws.

The environmental protection argument

The potential for global trade to affect the environment has become controversial. A president of the Sierra Club, an environmental lobbying organization, once wrote: “The consequences of globalization for the environment are not good. … Globalization, if we are lucky, will raise average incomes enough to pay for cleaning up some of the mess that we have made. But before we get there, globalization could also destroy enough of the planet’s basic biological and physical systems that prospects for life itself will be radically compromised.”

If free trade meant the destruction of life itself, then even economists would convert to protectionism! While globalization—and economic activity of all kinds—can pose environmental dangers, it seems quite possible that, with the appropriate safeguards in place, the environmental impacts of trade can be minimized. In some cases, trade may even bring environmental benefits.

In general, high-income countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan, and the nations of the European Union have relatively strict environmental standards. In contrast, middle- and low-income countries like Brazil, Nigeria, India, and China have lower environmental standards. The general view of the governments of such countries is that environmental protection is a luxury: as soon as their people have enough to eat, decent healthcare, and longer life expectancies, then they will spend more money on sewage treatment plants, scrubbers to reduce air pollution from factory smokestacks, national parks to protect wildlife, and so on.

This gap in environmental standards between high-income and low-income countries raises two worrisome possibilities in a world of increasing global trade: the “race to the bottom” scenario and the question of how quickly environmental standards will improve in low-income countries.

The Race to the Bottom Scenario

The race to the bottom    scenario of global environmental degradation runs like this. Profit-seeking multinational companies shift their production from countries with strong environmental standards to countries with weak standards, thus reducing their costs and increasing their profits. Faced with such behavior, countries reduce their environmental standards to attract multinational firms, which, after all, provide jobs and economic clout. As a result, global production becomes concentrated in countries where it can pollute the most and environmental laws everywhere “race to the bottom.”

Questions & Answers

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utility maximization Economics concept that, when making a purchase decision, a consumer attempts to get the greatest value possible from expenditure of least amount of money. His or her objective is to maximize the total value derived from the available
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Source:  OpenStax, Microeconomics. OpenStax CNX. Aug 03, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11627/1.10
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