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The Magic Bullet? The RTAA, Institutional Reform, and Trade Liberalization


  • Hiscox, Michael J.


The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act (RTAA) of 1934 has long been heralded as a simple institutional reform with revolutionary consequences: namely, by changing the trade policymaking process in the United States, the RTAA is held responsible for the dramatic liberalization in U.S. policy beginning in the 1930s and 1940s. This article takes issue with this conventional wisdom. I argue that the standard accounts—which emphasize the importance of delegation for overcoming logrolling in Congress or for facilitating reciprocity in international trade negotiations—fail to provide an adequate explanation for just how the institutional innovation was achieved and sustained in the face of protectionist opposition. I suggest instead that trade liberalization was driven by exogenous changes in party constituencies and societal preferences that had crucial effects on congressional votes to extend the RTAA authority and liberalize trade after 1945. The preservation of the RTAA program was symptomatic rather than causal; as a consequence, it may well be abandoned in the future. The evolution of U.S. trade policy has been, and will continue to be, powerfully shaped by changes in the preferences of societal groups and in the positions taken by parties on the trade issue.

Suggested Citation

  • Hiscox, Michael J., 1999. "The Magic Bullet? The RTAA, Institutional Reform, and Trade Liberalization," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(04), pages 669-698, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:53:y:1999:i:04:p:669-698_44

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    Cited by:

    1. Paola Conconi & Giovanni Facchini & Maurizio Zanardi, 2012. "Fast-Track Authority and International Trade Negotiations," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(3), pages 146-189, August.
    2. Toshihiro Okubo, 2006. "Trade Bloc Formation in Interwar Japan --Gravity Model Analysis-- (forthcoming in Journal of the Japanese and International Economies)," IHEID Working Papers 03-2006, Economics Section, The Graduate Institute of International Studies.
    3. Marcelo de Paiva Abreu, 2005. "The FTAA and the political economy of protection in Brazil and the US," Textos para discussão 494, Department of Economics PUC-Rio (Brazil).
    4. Cao Emily Yixuan & Cao Yong & Prasad Rashmi & Shen Zhengping, 2011. "U.S.-China Exchange Rate Negotiation: Stakeholders' Participation and Strategy Deployment," Business and Politics, De Gruyter, vol. 13(3), pages 1-25, October.
    5. Nelson, Douglas, 2006. "The political economy of antidumping: A survey," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 554-590, September.
    6. Xiaobo Lü & Kenneth F. Scheve & Matthew J. Slaughter, 2010. "Envy, Altruism, and the International Distribution of Trade Protection," NBER Working Papers 15700, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Okubo, Toshihiro, 2007. "Trade bloc formation in inter-war Japan.: A gravity model analysis," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 214-236, June.
    8. Conconi, Paola & Facchini, Giovanni & Zanardi, Maurizio, 2014. "Policymakers' horizon and trade reforms: The protectionist effect of elections," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(1), pages 102-118.
    9. Paola Conconi & Giovanni Facchini & Maurizio Zanardi, 2011. "Policymakers’ Horizon and Trade Reforms," Development Working Papers 311, Centro Studi Luca d'Agliano, University of Milano.
    10. David Greenaway & Douglas Nelson, 2010. "The Politics of (Anti-)Globalization: What do we Learn from Simple Models?," Chapters,in: Globalization and Economic Integration, chapter 4 Edward Elgar Publishing.

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