A political - economy analysis of free trade areas and customs unions
The authors analyze the welfare effects of regional integration in a model of endogenous protection. They show that introducing preferential trading leads to an increase in protection against countries outside the preferential trading area. Moreover, the important Meade result of preferential trading breaks down in the presence of endogenous protection. According to the Meade result, if excess demands exhibit net substitutability, the introduction of preferential trading is welfare-improving. In the presence of endogenous protection, because preferential trading is accompanied by increased protection against nonpartners, its effect on welfare is ambiguous. The authors also compare free trade areas and customs unions. They provide the first formal treatment of the argument that a customs union is a more effective instrument for diluting the power of interest groups than is a free trade area. Under a customs union, the tariff available to one country becomes available to all countries in the union. This introduces a free-rider problem in lobbying and all lobbying takes place in one country. The lobby chooses a lower (common) external tariff under a customs unions than under a free trade area. This means that welfare in the country where lobbying takes place is higher under a customs union than under a free trade area, although the same may not hold true for the other country. The level of the common external tariff declines as the number of members in the union increases. Therefore, the larger the number of partners in a customs union, the more likely it will improve the welfare of member countries. But, because of the free-rider problem, lobbies are likely to resist the enlargement of the customs union.
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