Paris, Panels, and Protectionism: Matching US Rhetoric with Reality to Save the Planet

Abbey Stemler, Scott Shackelford & Eric Richards · 19 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 3

Abstract

US rhetoric has not matched reality in the free trade or sustainability contexts, as may be seen by the ongoing debates surrounding a range of behaviors that violate international trade rules. The US government’s failure to adhere to the rules that it was instrumental in crafting sets a particularly troubling precedent. These trade distortions reduce trust and respect among countries and undermine efforts to combat climate change. Simultaneously, we are witnessing a growing preference for “minilateral” agreements, as may be seen in the Obama Administration’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and US-EU Trade Pact. This trend is likely to continue as Donald Trump has signaled his intention to move away from multilateral trade deals and favor bilateral accords. The Chinese government has pursued a similar approach in the context of financial governance and, with its recent creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, has also exhibited a willingness to circumvent existing global institutions. Concurrently, the international community has been engaged in negotiations under the umbrella of the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change to mitigate the threat of global climate change and similarly promote sustainability, most recently via the Paris Agreement.
This Article identifies a series of inconsistencies in US trade policies and completes a comparative case study of the ongoing disputes between China and the United States surrounding solar energy subsidies in hopes of finding opportunities for collective action that promotes both free trade and sustainability. It also pinpoints roadblocks to promoting both the free trade and sustainability movements, and through the lens of the literature on polycentric governance, discusses the trend towards—as well as the benefits and drawbacks of—minilateral and multilateral approaches to furthering sustainable development.