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Trade for the Environment: Transboundary Hazardous Waste Movements after the Basel Convention

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Document pages: 35 pages

Abstract: International institutions are important regulators of the trade-environment relationship. Many of them deploy trade measures for environmental purposes, with mixed results. The Basel Convention is a typical case where designated strong trade restrictions have failed to curb movements of hazardous waste or protect vulnerable countries from waste dumping. The existing literature emphasizes North-South conflict under the Basel Convention as the main reason for these shortcomings. This paper returns to the fundamental question as to why countries engage in the trade of hazardous wastes. It relaxes the Basel assumption that hazardous wastes are invariably negative externalities, and argues that global economic integration has commodified these wastes. Countries are increasingly diverging on their views and treatment of hazardous materials. This study draws from the under-utilized Basel Convention Database and other sources to piece together a holistic picture of the global hazardous waste movements. It identifies three types of countries with distinct trade-orientations: industrialized countries, which trade the largest amounts of hazardous wastes and with considerable specialization; newly industrializing countries, which are becoming influential players in hazardous waste generation and management; and least- developed countries, which are least open to waste trade yet least protected from waste dumping. This analysis shows that, as globalization deepens, the management of hazardous wastes may actually require extensive transboundary movements of hazardous materials between countries of capability and interest. Contrary to its current trade minimization approach based on a crude North-South dichotomy, the Basel Convention may benefit from an approach that motivates capable countries to treat more wastes and builds capacity for intended waste importers.

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