Gradualism in Free Trade Agreements: A Theoretical Justification
A notable feature of many recent trade agreements is the gradual, rather than immediate, reduction of trade barriers. In this paper we model trade liberalization as a cooperative relationship that evolves gradually in a non-cooperative environment. We show that specialization, capacity irreversibility and the development of trade-partner specific capital increase the benefit of continuing the liberalizing relationship and decrease, over time, the lowest obtainable self-enforcing tariff. By increasing the penalty of future defection, sunk costs ensure that the self-enforcing trading relationship starts slowly, but once in progress the level of cooperation continues to improve.
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