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date: 04 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Long-distance international trade for hundreds of years stemmed primarily from differences in climate. Generally free-trade policy and reduced transport cost superimposed another pattern by 1914; one of greater international specialization based upon land and labor abundance or scarcity. The broadly open trading world of the beginning of 1914 broke down first under the impact of war and then of the Great Depression. By 1945 the United States had emerged as the most powerful nation, committed to establishing a world order that would not make the mistakes of the preceding decades. The promotion of more liberalized trade among the wealthier nations, over the following decades hugely expanded the volume of trade. Trade in manufactures—based on skill endowments and preference diversity—came to dominate that in primary product. Services strongly increased in importance, especially with the rise of e-commerce. Oil displaced coal as the world’s principal fuel, redistributing income to those countries with substantial oil deposits. The greatest threat to the continuing expansion of world incomes and trade came from the Great Recession of 2008–2009, but the World Trade Organization regime discouraged the mutually destructive trade wars of the earlier period. However, the WTO was less successful 10 years later in restraining the damaging United States–China trade conflict.

Keywords: trade patterns, comparative advantage, gains from trade, customs unions, trade wars

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