How do new ideas emerge in the trade regime? Implications for addressing climate change.

The Saving the World Webinar Series is presented by the Planetary Health Equity Hothouse. The series discusses the intersections between climate change, inequity, and human health. The focus is on actions that enable transformative change away from the harmful consumptogenic system to systems that promote good health, social equity and environmental wellbeing.

This webinar features Matt Castle, a Senior Lecturer in the Political Science and International Relations Program at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, whose current project explores how negotiators attempt to promote new norms in the trade regime, in the face of institutional and political constraints on innovation.


New global challenges demand new ideas. This is as true in the trade regime as in other areas of international cooperation. Yet by design and happenstance, existing rules and institutions are often resistant to change. Negotiators design global trade rules to provide a stable and predictable institutional environment, and these rules become ‘sticky’ over time. But faced with global challenges like climate change, new rules must emerge. How then do trade negotiators successfully promote new norms in a context that resists such innovation? I first examine the ways in which the trade regime has evolved into a ‘dense’ system of inter-related texts and discuss how this structure constrains the emergence of new ideas. I then look to opportunities for innovation and change. I focus on under-explored areas of the trade regime: agreement renegotiations, ‘side letters’, and ‘marginal’ agreements signed by small players.

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