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Trade Blocs, Currency Blocs and the Disintegration of World Trade in the 1930s

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  • Eichengreen, Barry
  • Irwin, Douglas

Abstract

The dramatic implosion and regionalization of international trade during the 1930s has often been blamed on the trade and foreign exchange policies that emerged in the interwar period. We provide new evidence on the impact of trade and currency blocs on trade flows from 1928-38 that suggests a blanket indictment of interwar trade policies and payments arrangements is not warranted. Discriminatory trade policies and international monetary arrangements had neither a uniformly favourable nor unfavourable implication for world trade; instead the balance of trade-creating and trade-diverting effects depended on the motivations of policy-makers, and hence on the structure of their policies. We find, for example, that British Commonwealth tariff preferences affected trade more significantly than the sterling-bloc currency area, but both promoted within-group trade without diverting trade away from non-members. Exchange controls and bilateral clearing arrangements enacted by Germany and Central and East European countries, by contrast, dominated other commercial policies in altering trade patterns, but curtailed trade with non-members with no offsetting trade-creating effects. We also find support for Ragner Nurkse's famous hypothesis that exchange rate volatility in the interwar period diminished trade. Our results speak to the emerging regional trade and currency areas of today, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the EC's Single Market and European Monetary System, and suggest that their impact lies not in the regional or global character of the policy initiative, but in the structure and design of the underlying policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Eichengreen, Barry & Irwin, Douglas, 1993. "Trade Blocs, Currency Blocs and the Disintegration of World Trade in the 1930s," CEPR Discussion Papers 837, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:837
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Peter Temin, 1991. "Lessons from the Great Depression," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262700441, January.
    2. Kitson, M., 1992. "The Move to Autarky: The Political Economy of Nazi Trade Policy," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 9201, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    3. Jeffrey A. Frankel & Shang-Jin Wei, 1994. "Yen Bloc or Dollar Bloc? Exchange Rate Policies of the East Asian Economies," NBER Chapters,in: Macroeconomic Linkage: Savings, Exchange Rates, and Capital Flows, NBER-EASE Volume 3, pages 295-333 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Havrylyshyn, Oleh & Pritchett, Lant, 1991. "European trade patterns after the transition," Policy Research Working Paper Series 748, The World Bank.
    5. Burda, Michael & Wyplosz, Charles, 2017. "Macroeconomics: a European Text," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, edition 7, number 9780198737513.
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    Cited by:

    1. Frankel, Jeffrey A. & Wei, Shang-Jin, 1995. "European Integration and the Regionalization of World Trade and Currencies: The Economics and the Politics," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers 233413, University of California-Berkeley, Department of Economics.
    2. Alberto Alesina & Robert J. Barro & Silvana Tenreyro, 2003. "Optimal Currency Areas," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2002, Volume 17, pages 301-356 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Giorgia Albertin, 2008. "Trade Effects of Currency Unions; Do Economic Dissimilarities Matter?," IMF Working Papers 08/249, International Monetary Fund.
    4. Jeffrey A. Frankel and Shang-Jin Wei., 1993. "Emerging Currency Blocs," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers C93-026, University of California at Berkeley.
    5. Kool, C. J. M. & Koedijk, K. G., 1997. "Real exchange rates between the wars," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 211-232, April.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Currency Blocs; Trade Blocs;

    JEL classification:

    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • F33 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Monetary Arrangements and Institutions

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