Did WTO rules restrain protectionism during the recent systemic crisis?
This paper challenges the contention that WTO rules had much impact on state behaviour during the recent global economic crisis. Evidence on the variety of discrimination implemented by governments, characteristics of the recent systemic crisis, as well as on certain, often overlooked features of WTO obligations are used to support a conclusion that the WTO rules altered at most the composition of crisis-era protectionism. As to the quantum of protectionism, it is unclear how WTO rules could have prevented many governments from adopting tariff increases on the scale of the Smoot Hawley tariff. Pessimistic implications are drawn concerning the future restraining role that multilateral trade obligations could ever play during systemic economic crises. Realistically, the fate of the open world trading system must rely on other incentives to refrain from protectionism.
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