Theoretical and empirical research on voluntarism has focused primarily on U.S. and European examples, but has generally failed to consider the Japanese system of voluntary environmental agreements. Nevertheless, Japanese VEAs are one of the world's oldest experiments in voluntary policy; careful analysis of the characteristics and contexts may improve understanding about the critical factors associated with effective voluntary policy. This paper reviews the extant literature on voluntarism focusing specifically on the bargaining context within which agreements are negotiated. It details three factors that contribute to the effectiveness of voluntary policy generally: regulatory bargaining power, non-regulatory bargaining power and reciprocity. The paper then provides a brief but detailed analysis of the development of voluntary agreements in Japan. Comparisons with voluntary policies in the U.S. and Europe are included. Findings indicate similarities and some significant differences between the Japanese system and other national systems of voluntary policy. Conclusions discuss implications for theory and policy.
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