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Power Politics and the Free Trade Bandwagon


  • Lloyd Gruber


What explains the developing world's newfound enthusiasm for free trade? Are developing country leaders jumping on the NAFTA, EU, APEC, and WTO bandwagons in order to achieve Pareto-improving gains? Or might it simply be their desire not to be left behind while their neighbors "go it alone"? This paper suggests that in many cases -- and in direct opposition to the collective-action-based models of international cooperation we are accustomed to seeing in the IR literature -- it is the latter (defensive) motivation that has been driving much of the action. NAFTA, I argue, is a case in point: Without in any way being bullied or coerced, the Mexican and Canadian governments agreed to take part in a cooperative multilateral arrangement they genuinely, and intensely, disliked. Although hard to reconcile with conventional "positive-sum" theories of voluntary cooperation, this finding is perfectly consistent with the broader power-politics model I sketch out in the first part of the paper.

Suggested Citation

  • Lloyd Gruber, 1999. "Power Politics and the Free Trade Bandwagon," Working Papers 9920, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:9920

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