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The most-favored nation rule in principle and practice: Discrimination in the GATT


  • Joanne Gowa


  • Raymond Hicks



The conflicts of interest that prevailed between the great powers in the wake of the First World War eviscerated their ability to respond collectively to the advent of the Great Depression. Instead, each turned to discriminatory trade barriers and trade blocs to try to revive domestic output. Persuaded that trade discrimination exacerbated the political tensions that erupted in World War II, policy makers constructed a postwar economic order that institutionalized nondiscrimination. Thus, Article 1 of the charter of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) mandates most-favored nation (MFN) treatment. We argue here that the MFN clause itself encouraged the adoption of practices and policies that actually recreated discrimination. In particular, we argue, developing countries, long regarded as victims of discrimination, institutionalized it in their negotiations with each other. We examine two developing country PTAs that included about 80 percent of all developing-country GATT members by output (the Global System of Trade Preferences and the Protocol Relating to Trade Negotiations). We show that as in the GATT writ large, their patterns of tariff cuts and trade expansion were highly skewed toward a small number of their largest members. In trying to avoid discrimination, policy makers actually encouraged its de facto adoption. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Joanne Gowa & Raymond Hicks, 2012. "The most-favored nation rule in principle and practice: Discrimination in the GATT," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 7(3), pages 247-266, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:revint:v:7:y:2012:i:3:p:247-266 DOI: 10.1007/s11558-011-9141-6

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Wilkinson, Rorden & Scott, James, 2008. "Developing country participation in the GATT: a reassessment," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(03), pages 473-510, July.
    2. Rose, Andrew K., 2004. "Do WTO members have more liberal trade policy?," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 209-235, July.
    3. Michael Tomz & Judith L. Goldstein & Douglas Rivers, 2007. "Do We Really Know That the WTO Increases Trade? Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(5), pages 2005-2018, December.
    4. Ludema, Rodney D. & Mayda, Anna Maria, 2009. "Do countries free ride on MFN?," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(2), pages 137-150, April.
    5. Eicher, Theo S. & Henn, Christian, 2011. "In search of WTO trade effects: Preferential trade agreements promote trade strongly, but unevenly," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 137-153, March.
    6. Subramanian, Arvind & Wei, Shang-Jin, 2007. "The WTO promotes trade, strongly but unevenly," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 151-175, May.
    7. Christian Broda & Nuno Limao & David E. Weinstein, 2008. "Optimal Tariffs and Market Power: The Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2032-2065, December.
    8. Kyle Bagwell & Robert W. Staiger, 2011. "What Do Trade Negotiators Negotiate About? Empirical Evidence from the World Trade Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(4), pages 1238-1273, June.
    9. Peter Egger & Michael Pfaffermayr, 2003. "The proper panel econometric specification of the gravity equation: A three-way model with bilateral interaction effects," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 28(3), pages 571-580, July.
    10. Estevadeordal, Antoni & Suominen, Kati, 2009. "The Sovereign Remedy?: Trade Agreements in a Globalizing World," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199550159, June.
    11. Masahiro Endoh, 2005. "The effects of the GSTP on trade flow: mission accomplished?," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(5), pages 487-496.
    12. Chase, Kerry, 2006. "Multilateralism compromised: the mysterious origins of GATT Article XXIV," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(01), pages 1-30, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stephanie Rickard & Daniel Kono, 2014. "Think globally, buy locally: International agreements and government procurement," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 333-352, September.


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