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A Political-Economy Theory of Trade Agreements

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  • Giovanni Maggi
  • Andres Rodriguez-Clare

Abstract

This paper presents a theory of trade agreements where "politics" play an central role. This stands in contrast with the standard theory, where even politically-motivated governments sign trade agreements only to deal with terms-of-trade externalities. We develop a model where governments may be motivated to sign a trade agreement both by the presence of standard terms-of-trade externalities and by the desire to commit vis-a-vis domestic industrial lobbies. The model is rich in implications. In particular, it predicts that trade agreements result in deeper trade liberalization when governments are more politically motivated (provided capital mobility is sufficiently high) and when capital can move more freely across sectors. Also, governments tend to prefer a commitment in the form of tariff ceilings rather than exact tariff levels. In a fully dynamic specification of the model, trade liberalization occurs in two stages: an immediate slashing of tariffs and a subsequent gradual reduction of tariffs. The immediate tariff cut is a reflection of the terms-of-trade motive for the agreement, while the domestic-commitment motive is reflected in the gradual phase of trade liberalization. Finally, the speed of trade liberalization is higher when capital is more mobile across sectors.

Suggested Citation

  • Giovanni Maggi & Andres Rodriguez-Clare, 2005. "A Political-Economy Theory of Trade Agreements," NBER Working Papers 11716, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11716
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert Staiger, 1994. "A Theory of Gradual Trade Liberalization," International Trade 9410003, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 21 Oct 1994.
    2. Grossman, Gene M & Helpman, Elhanan, 1995. "Trade Wars and Trade Talks," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(4), pages 675-708, August.
    3. Giovanni Maggi & Andres Rodriguez-Clare, 1998. "The Value of Trade Agreements in the Presence of Political Pressures," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(3), pages 574-601, June.
    4. Bagwell, Kyle & Staiger, Robert W., 2001. "Reciprocity, non-discrimination and preferential agreements in the multilateral trading system," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 281-325, June.
    5. Grossman, Gene M & Helpman, Elhanan, 1995. "The Politics of Free-Trade Agreements," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(4), pages 667-690, September.
    6. Furusawa, Taiji & Lai, Edwin L. -C., 1999. "Adjustment costs and gradual trade liberalization," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 333-361, December.
    7. Grossman, Gene M & Helpman, Elhanan, 1994. "Protection for Sale," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 833-850, September.
    8. Mayer, Wolfgang, 1981. "Theoretical Considerations on Negotiated Tariff Adjustments," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 33(1), pages 135-153, March.
    9. Zissimos, Ben, 2007. "The GATT and gradualism," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 410-433, April.
    10. Giovanni Maggi, 1999. "The Role of Multilateral Institutions in International Trade Cooperation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 190-214, March.
    11. Robert W. Staiger & Kyle Bagwell, 1999. "An Economic Theory of GATT," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 215-248, March.
    12. Kyle Bagwell & Robert W. Staiger, 2004. "Enforcement, Private Political Pressure and the GATT/WTO Escape Clause," NBER Working Papers 10987, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Mitra, Devashish, 2002. "Endogenous political organization and the value of trade agreements," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 473-485, August.
    14. Staiger, Robert W & Tabellini, Guido, 1987. "Discretionary Trade Policy and Excessive Protection," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 823-837, December.
    15. Paola Conconi & Carlo Perroni, 2003. "Self-Enforcing International Agreements and Domestic Policy Credibility," CESifo Working Paper Series 988, CESifo Group Munich.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations

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