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Rules and Discretion in Trade Policy

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  • Robert W. Staiger
  • Guido Tabellini

Abstract

We argue in this paper that the second-best nature of trade-policy intervention makes it likely that the issue of time consistency viii be an important consideration in determining both the extent and the efficacy of such intervention in most environments. The point is seen most directly by noting that a tariff is both a tax on consumers and a subsidy to producers of the import-competing good. Since first-best intervention typically calls for targeting each distortion with a separate tax/subsidy, the tariff will be a more effective policy tool if its consumption tax aspect can be separated from its production subsidy dimension. Consequently, if production decisions are made prior to consumption decisions, a government with sufficient policy flexibility will be tempted to surprise producers with policies other than those announced in an effort to make this separation. This leads optimal trade policy intervention to be time-inconsistent in a wide range of environments. We explore this idea in general terms and illustrate the results with specific examples.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert W. Staiger & Guido Tabellini, 1988. "Rules and Discretion in Trade Policy," NBER Working Papers 2658, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2658
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Avinash Dixit, 2005. "Trade And Insurance With Moral Hazard," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: An Inframarginal Approach To Trade Theory, chapter 4, pages 53-74 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    2. 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.
    3. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1977. "Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 473-491, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Chang, Pao-Li & Lee, Myoung-Jae, 2011. "The WTO trade effect," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1), pages 53-71, September.
    2. Basu, Arnab K. & Chau, Nancy H., 1999. "Adverse selection, asymmetric information, and foreign investment policies," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 239-252, September.
    3. Harry Flam & Robert W. Staiger, 1989. "Adverse Selection in Credit Markets and Infant Industry Protection," NBER Working Papers 2864, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Keck, Alexander & Schropp, Simon, 2007. "Indisputably essential: The economics of dispute settlement institutions in trade agreements," WTO Staff Working Papers ERSD-2007-02, World Trade Organization (WTO), Economic Research and Statistics Division.
    5. Kyle Bagwell & Robert W. Staiger, 2000. "GATT-Think," NBER Working Papers 8005, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Jensen, Richard & Thursby, Marie, 1990. "Tariffs with private information and reputation," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1-2), pages 43-67, August.
    7. Žigić, Krešimir, 2011. "Does a ‘non-committed’ government always generate lower social welfare than its ‘committed’ counterpart? Strategic trade policy when consumer surplus matters," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 533-556.
    8. Peter Welzel, 1992. "A note on the time inconsistency of strategic trade policy," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 3(2), pages 203-214, June.
    9. Gervais, Jean-Philippe & Lapan, Harvey E., 2002. "Time consistent export quotas in an oligopolistic world market," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(2), pages 445-463, March.
    10. Gervais, Jean-Philippe, 1999. "Optimal trade policy, time consistency and uncertainty in an oligopsonistic world market," ISU General Staff Papers 1999010108000013564, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    11. McLaren, John, 1998. "Consequences of discretion in the formation of commodities policy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 347-370, September.
    12. Glazer, Amihai & Ranjan, Priya, 2007. "Trade protection to reduce redistribution," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 790-805, September.
    13. Kresimir Zigic, 2010. "Second-Best Trade Policies, R&D Spillovers and Government (In)ability to Precommit in an Intra-Industry Trade Framework," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp427, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.
    14. Robert W. Staiger & Guido Tabellini, 1991. "Rules versus Discretion in Trade Policy: An Empirical Analysis," NBER Chapters,in: Empirical Studies of Commercial Policy, pages 11-46 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Simon Schropp, 2007. "Revisiting the "Compliance-vs.-Rebalancing" Debate in WTO Scholarship a Unified Research Agenda," IHEID Working Papers 29-2007, Economics Section, The Graduate Institute of International Studies, revised Dec 2007.
    16. Levent Celik & Bilgehan Karabay & John McLaren, 2018. "Fast-Track Authority: A Hold-Up Interpretation," NBER Working Papers 24427, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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