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From Smoot-Hawley to Reciprocal Trade Agreements: Changing the Course of U.S. Trade Policy in the 1930s

In: The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century

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  • Douglas A. Irwin

Abstract

Four years after passing the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff in 1930, Congress enacted the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act (RTAA), which gave the president the authority to undertake tariff-reduction agreements (without Congressional approval) with foreign countries. The resulting trade agreements reduced U.S. tariffs and culminated in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947. Was the Great Depression responsible for bringing about this fundamental shift in U.S. trade policy? This paper analyzes the changes in U.S. trade policy during this period and argues that (i) the Depression as an international phenomenon motivated the unprecedented Congressional delegation of tariff-making powers, (ii) economic changes more the result of World War II than the Depression blunted Republican opposition to the RTAA and ensured its post-war survival.

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This chapter was published in:

  • Michael D. Bordo & Claudia Goldin & Eugene N. White, 1998. "The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bord98-1.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 6899.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:6899

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    1. Haggard, Stephan, 1988. "The institutional foundations of hegemony: explaining the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(01), pages 91-119, December.
    2. Crucini, Mario J. & Kahn, James, 1996. "Tariffs and aggregate economic activity: Lessons from the Great Depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 427-467, December.
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    Cited by:
    1. Paola Conconi & Giovanni Facchini & Maurizio Zanardi, 2012. "Fast-Track Authority and International Trade Negotiations," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/137521, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

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