IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Trade Wars: The Exaggerated Impact of Trade in Economic Debate


  • Richard B. Freeman


The rules governing trade and capital flows have been at the centre of controversy as globalisation has proceeded. One reason is the belief that trade and capital flows have massive effects on the labour market - either positive, per the claims of international financial institutions and free trade enthusiasts, or negative, per the ubiquitous protestors at WTO, IMF and World Bank meetings demanding global labour standards. Comparing the claims made in this debate with the outcomes of trade agreements, this paper finds that the debate has exaggerated the effects of trade on economies and the labour market. Changes in trade policy have had modest impacts on the labour market. Other aspects of globalisation - immigration, capital flows and technology transfer - have greater impacts, with volatile capital flows creating great risk for the well-being of workers. As for labour standards, global standards do not threaten the comparative advantage of developing countries nor do poor labour standards create a 'race to the bottom'. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard B. Freeman, 2004. "Trade Wars: The Exaggerated Impact of Trade in Economic Debate," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(1), pages 1-23, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:worlde:v:27:y:2004:i:1:p:1-23

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: link to full text
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robbins, Donald & Gindling, T H, 1999. "Trade Liberalization and the Relative Wages for More-Skilled Workers in Costa Rica," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 3(2), pages 140-154, June.
    2. Jai S. Mah, 1997. "Core Labour Standards and Export Performance in Developing Countries," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 20(6), pages 773-785, September.
    3. Joshua Aizenman, 2004. "Financial Opening: Evidence and Policy Options," NBER Chapters,in: Challenges to Globalization: Analyzing the Economics, pages 473-498 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Dollar, David & Kraay, Aart, 2002. "Growth Is Good for the Poor," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 7(3), pages 195-225, September.
    5. Ayhan Kose & Kenneth Rogoff & Eswar S Prasad & Shang-Jin Wei, 2003. "Effects of Financial Globalization on Developing Countries; Some Empirical Evidence," IMF Occasional Papers 220, International Monetary Fund.
    6. Daniel Trefler, 2004. "The Long and Short of the Canada-U. S. Free Trade Agreement," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 870-895, September.
    7. Robert E. Baldwin, 2004. "Openness and Growth: What's the Empirical Relationship?," NBER Chapters,in: Challenges to Globalization: Analyzing the Economics, pages 499-526 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Yanikkaya, Halit, 2003. "Trade openness and economic growth: a cross-country empirical investigation," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 57-89, October.
    9. Andrews, Donald W K, 1993. "Tests for Parameter Instability and Structural Change with Unknown Change Point," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(4), pages 821-856, July.
    10. Koujianou Goldberg, Pinelopi & Pavcnik, Nina, 2003. "The response of the informal sector to trade liberalization," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 463-496, December.
    11. Drusilla K. Brown & Alan V. Deardorff & Robert M. Stern, 2009. "The Effects of Multinational Production on Wages and Working Conditions in Developing Countries," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: Globalization And International Trade Policies, chapter 17, pages 623-687 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    12. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Friedman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1997. "How Much Do Immigration and Trade Affect Labor Market Outcomes?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1), pages 1-90.
    13. Martin, Will & Maskus, Keith E, 2001. "Core Labor Standards and Competitiveness: Implications for Global Trade Policy," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 9(2), pages 317-328, May.
    14. Green, Francis & Dickerson, Andy & Saba Arbache, Jorge, 2001. "A Picture of Wage Inequality and the Allocation of Labor Through a Period of Trade Liberalization: The Case of Brazil," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 29(11), pages 1923-1939, November.
    15. David H. Romer & Jeffrey A. Frankel, 1999. "Does Trade Cause Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(3), pages 379-399, June.
    16. David Dollar & Aart Kraay, 2004. "Trade, Growth, and Poverty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(493), pages 22-49, February.
    17. John M. Abowd & Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number abow91-1, January.
    18. Dani Rodrik, 1997. "Has Globalization Gone Too Far?," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 57.
    19. Eric Edmonds & Nina Pavcnik, 2002. "Does Globalization Increase Child Labor? Evidence from Vietnam," NBER Working Papers 8760, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. repec:rus:hseeco:121599 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. Raymond Robertson, 2000. "Trade Liberalisation and Wage Inequality: Lessons from the Mexican Experience," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 23(6), pages 827-849, June.
    22. Kala Krishna & Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay & Cemile Yavas, 2002. "Trade with Labor Market Distortions and Heterogeneous Labor: Why Trade Can Hurt," NBER Working Papers 9086, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Gordon H. Hanson, 2007. "Globalization, Labor Income, and Poverty in Mexico," NBER Chapters,in: Globalization and Poverty, pages 417-456 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Bill Pritchard, 2009. "The long hangover from the second food regime: a world-historical interpretation of the collapse of the WTO Doha Round," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 26(4), pages 297-307, December.
    3. Ariell Reshef, 2013. "Is Technological Change Biased Towards the Unskilled in Services? An Empirical Investigation," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(2), pages 312-331, April.
    4. Guy Michaels, 2008. "The Effect of Trade on the Demand for Skill: Evidence from the Interstate Highway System," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 683-701, November.
    5. Viju, Crina & Yeung, May T. & Kerr, William A., 2011. "Post-Moratorium EU Regulation of Genetically Modified Products: Trade Concerns," Commissioned Papers 116848, Canadian Agricultural Trade Policy Research Network.
    6. repec:pje:journl:article14sumiii is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Bandyopadhyay, Subhayu & Wall, Howard J., 2007. "Is There Too Little Immigration?," IZA Discussion Papers 2825, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Michel Dumont & Nikolina Stojanovska & Ludo Cuyvers, 2011. "World inequality, globalisation, technology and labour market institutions," International Journal of Manpower, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 32(3), pages 257-272, June.
    9. Gregorio Giménez Esteban, 2007. "Violence and Growth in Latin America," Economic Analysis Working Papers (2002-2010). Atlantic Review of Economics (2011-2016), Colexio de Economistas de A Coruña, Spain and Fundación Una Galicia Moderna, vol. 6, pages 1-34, July.
    10. DUMONT, Michel, "undated". "The social consequences of economic globalization," Working Papers 2006025, University of Antwerp, Faculty of Applied Economics.
    11. Rolph van der Hoeven, 2010. "Labour Markets Trends, Financial Globalization and the current crisis in Developing Countries," Working Papers 99, United Nations, Department of Economics and Social Affairs.
    12. Subhayu Bandyopadhyay & Howard Wall, 2008. "Is there too little immigration? An analysis of temporary skilled migration," The Journal of International Trade & Economic Development, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(2), pages 197-211.
    13. Thierry Verdier, 2005. "Intégration commerciale « socialement responsable » : une approche en termes d'économie politique," Revue d’économie du développement, De Boeck Université, vol. 13(4), pages 55-121.
    14. Richard Kozul-Wright & Paul Rayment, 2004. "Globalization Reloaded: An Unctad Perspective," UNCTAD Discussion Papers 167, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
    15. Guerriero, Marta & Sen, Kunal, 2012. "What Determines the Share of Labour in National Income? A Cross-Country Analysis," IZA Discussion Papers 6643, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    16. Pangarkar, Nitin & Wu, Jie, 2012. "Industry globalization and the performance of emerging market firms: Evidence from China," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 196-209.
    17. Brown, Clair & Linden, Greg, 2007. "Semiconductor Engineers in a Global Economy," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt6fr9b2p9, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
    18. Stephan Kampelmann & François Rycx, 2013. "The Dynamics Of Task-Biased Technological Change :The Case Of Occupations," Brussels Economic Review, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles, vol. 56(2), pages 113-142.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General
    • J5 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:worlde:v:27:y:2004:i:1:p:1-23. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.