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Global Rivalries

Standards Wars and the Transnational Cotton Trade

Global Rivalries

Standards Wars and the Transnational Cotton Trade

As the economies of China, India, and other Asian nations continue to grow, these countries are seeking greater control over the rules that govern international trade. Setting the rules carries with it the power to establish advantage, so it’s no surprise that everyone wants a seat at the table—or that negotiations over rules often result in stalemates at meeting of the World Trade Organization.

Nowhere is the conflict over rule setting more evident than in the simmering “standards wars” over the rules that define quality and enable the adjudication of disputes. In Global Rivalries, Amy A. Quark explores the questions of how rules are made, who makes them, and how they are enforced, using the lens of cotton—a simple commodity that has become a poignant symbol of both the crisis of Western rule making power and the potential for powerful new rivals to supplant it. Quark traces the strategies for influencing rule making processes employed not only by national governments but also by transnational corporations, fiber scientists, and trade associations from around the globe. Quark analyzes the efficacy of their approaches and the implications for more marginal actors in the cotton trade, including producers in West Africa.

By placing the current contest within the historical development of the global capitalist system, Global Rivalries highlights a fascinating interaction of politics and economics.

312 pages | 19 line drawings, 12 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Economics and Business: Economics--International and Comparative

Political Science: Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, and International Relations

Sociology: Social Change, Social Movements, Political Sociology


“With Global Rivalries, Amy A. Quark offers a fascinating account of the evolution of standards setting in the international cotton trade, bringing this seemingly technocratic but intensely political process to life without sacrificing careful and erudite scholarship. More importantly, she shows convincingly that these issues matter greatly in an increasingly global marketplace.”

Susan K. Sell, George Washington University

“A transition from one hegemonic power to another today is less likely to be an outcome of a geopolitical shock and more likely to come through the renegotiation of existing rules. With Global Rivalries, Amy A. Quark portrays more clearly and effectively than any other analysis I’ve read so far how the interplay between the newcomers, who try to introduce new institutions but are dependent on the institutions already in place, and the old-timers, who try to protect the existing institutions but must pacify the challengers, leads to new global institutions that are inevitably hybrid.”

Nitsan Chorev, Brown University

“Nearly every area of our economic and political life has its own arcane-sounding set of global institutions, the product of its particular needs and historical development. It takes time to understand the minutiae, but often the quirks and conflicts can be fascinating. Cotton fibre standard-setting is a good example, as Quark’s Global Rivalries illustrates. . . . Here we have a fascinating historical account of how these institutions have developed. . . .  This is a useful contribution to broader debates about global governance in an era of emerging market power.”

Politics and Policy, LSE Review

“This fascinating book is of great interest to scholars interested in China’s evolving position within the global economy, as well as to those studying institutional theory in general. Standards are a pervasive phenomenon in the modern economy, yet they have received only limited scholarly attention. Institutional economists have long argued that standards exist because they lower transaction costs. But this leaves important questions unanswered: how do standards come about and which (or whose) standards prevail? Quark addresses these questions in an intriguing case. . . . The book will be read with much interest by scholars of China’s economy and international political economy.”

China Quarterly

“How do challengers integrate into the world economy, and how are they able to gain a leading position in world affairs? Quark aims to answer these difficult questions, taking the international cotton trade as an example. . . . All in all, this book offers a fascinating analysis of the evolution of the cotton market and its institutions. It shows how rivals and dominant actors develop their strategies to maintain and change existing rules. China scholars will be especially interested in how China is trying to influence this market and its rules.”

China Journal

“[Quark] studies negotiations over transnational quality standards in the contemporary cotton trade, traces the strategies for influencing the rule-making process, and analyzes the efficacy of governmental, scientific, and market approaches and their implications for more marginal actors in the cotton trade, including producers in West Africa.”

Journal of Economic Literature

“In a fascinating and rigorous new book, Quark demonstrates that cotton quality standards are actually ensconced in centuries-long processes of economic restructuring, geopolitical rivalry, and scientific innovation. Quark traces the evolution of cotton quality standards from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, making a number of important theoretical and historical contributions to knowledge about institutional change, the production of global inequality and underdevelopment, and the so-called globalization of economic relations. In making such contributions, this book should be of interest to many rural sociologists, as well as other scholars interested in international relations, science and technology studies, and international development more broadly.”

Rural Sociology

“Quark . . . offers a nuanced analysis that is fully aware of conflicts and disagreements within categories of actors (such as cotton producers and merchants) and of the contradictory policies pursued at one and the same time by key players (such as US promotion of both market liberalism and protectionism). The writing is . . . smooth and sure-handed [and] the book is highly readable despite the complexity of the narrative and the many actors, agreements, disputes, events, and initiatives covered in seven chapters.”

Contemporary Sociology

Table of Contents

List of Acronyms


Chapter One: Introduction

Chapter Two: Standards Wars and the Original Competing Kings of Cotton

Chapter Three: A Project of Uneven Liberalization

Chapter Four: The World Trade Organization and the New Competing Kings of Cotton

Chapter Five: Imitate and Overtake?

Chapter Six: Switching Tracks

Chapter Seven: Conclusion





ASA Global and Transnational Sociology Section: Best Scholarly Book Award

ASA Sociology of Development Section: Sociology of Development Book Award
Honorable Mention

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