Environment and liberalization of trade: Is the debate still on?
The increasing salience of environmental issues since the early 1990s and the intensification of the processes of economic globalization triggered a debate on trade, globalization and the environment. Broadly, the focus of the debate was the extent to which liberalization of trade harmed the environment. The debate revolved around two specific issues: first, whether the GATT/WTO rules could override domestic environmental regulations, and second, the possibility of WTO trade regime, considered more powerful than environmental regimes, superseding Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). The evidence of the 1990s suggests that the GATT as well as the WTO trade regimes successfully overruled domestic environmental regulations in defense of the world trading system based on free-trade approach. The supersession of MEAs by the WTO rules remains a theoretical possibility as no case involving MEAs had been brought before the WTO disputes settlement panel until 2020. The debate on trade-environment is still on. In reality, there is an interplay of many complex factors in global political economy to persuasively predict the future of the debate.