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Can Bilateral Trade Agreements Help Induce Free Trade?

  • Raymond Riezman

    (University of Iowa)

There has been growing debate about whether bilateral trade agreements are damaging multilateral efforts to eliminate barriers to international trade. This paper develops a model in which trading blocks always charge optimal tariffs and make trade agreements based on strategic considerations. We ask a very simple question. Does the fact that trading blocks can form bilateral trade agreements make Free trade less likely to occur? The answer is that it depends on the size distribution of the trading blocks. If there is one large trading block along with some smaller ones then bilateral trade agreements allow the smaller trading blocks to coalesce and block the monopoly power of large trading blocks. In this case, bilateral trade agreements facilitate the attainment of free trade. Not allowing customs unions leads to more not less protection. If trading blocks are of roughly equivalent size then bilateral trade agreements allow groups of trading blocks to more effectively monopolize world trade in which case they may make free trade less likely. These results suggest that a policy which inhibits the formation of trading blocks may be harmful. We also compute the welfare effects of trade agreements to get some idea of how empirically important these issues are.

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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series International Trade with number 9706001.

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Length: 23 pages
Date of creation: 02 Jun 1997
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpit:9706001
Note: Type of Document - MS Word; prepared on IBM PC; pages: 23 ; figures: included
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://econwpa.repec.org

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  1. Frankel, Jeffrey A & Stein, Ernesto & Wei, Shang-Jin, 1996. "Regional Trading Arrangements: Natural or Supernatural," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(2), pages 52-56, May.
  2. Harold L. Cole & Maurice Obstfeld, 1989. "Commodity Trade and International Risk Sharing: How Much Do Financial Markets Matter?," NBER Working Papers 3027, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Carsten Kowalczyk, 1990. "Welfare and Customs Unions," NBER Working Papers 3476, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Kowalczyk, Carsten & Sjostrom, Tomas, 1994. "Bringing GATT into the Core," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 61(243), pages 301-17, August.
  5. Jon D. Haveman, 1996. "Some Welfare Effects of Sequential Customs Union Formation," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 29(4), pages 941-58, November.
  6. John Kennan & Raymond Riezman, 2013. "Optimal Tariff Equilibria with Customs Unions," World Scientific Book Chapters, in: International Trade Agreements and Political Economy, chapter 5, pages 53-66 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
  7. Bond, Eric W. & Syropoulos, Constantinos, 1996. "The size of trading blocs Market power and world welfare effects," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-4), pages 411-437, May.
  8. Haverman, J.D., 1993. "Some Welfare Effects of Dynamic Customs Union Formation," Papers 93-109, Purdue University, Krannert School of Management - Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER).
  9. Lawrence H. Summers, 1991. "Regionalism and the world trading system," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 295-301.
  10. Gatsios, Konstantine & Karp, Larry, 1989. "Delegation Games in Customs Unions," CEPR Discussion Papers 337, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. Richardson, Martin, 1993. "Endogenous protection and trade diversion," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3-4), pages 309-324, May.
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