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Tariffs and the Macroeconomy  

Xiangtao Meng, Katheryn N. Russ, and Sanjay R. Singh

For hundreds of years, policymakers and academics have puzzled over how to add up the effects of trade and trade barriers on economic activity. The literature is vast. Trade theory generally focuses on the question of whether trade or trade barriers, like tariffs, make people and firms better off using models of the real economy operating at full employment and a net-zero trade balance. They yield powerful fundamental intuition but are not well equipped to address issues such as capital accumulation, the role of exchange rate depreciation, monetary policy, intertemporal optimization by consumers, or current account deficits, which permeate policy debates over tariffs. The literature on open-economy macroeconomics provides additional tools to address some of these issues, but neither literature has yet been able to answer definitively the question of what impact tariffs have on infant industries, current account deficits, unemployment, or inequality, which remain open empirical questions. Trade economists have only begun to understand how multiproduct retailers affect who ultimately pays tariffs and still are struggling to meaningfully model unemployment in a tractable way conducive to fast or uniform application to policy analysis, while macro approaches overlook sectoral complexity. The field’s understanding of the importance of endogenous capital investment is growing, but it has not internalized the importance of the same intertemporal trade-offs between savings and consumption for assessing the distributional impacts of trade on households. Dispersion across assessments of the impacts of the U.S.–China trade war illustrates the frontiers that economists face assessing the macroeconomic impacts of tariffs.


European Trade Policy in the 19th Century  

Markus Lampe

Trade policy is one determining factor of 19th-century globalization, alongside transport and communication innovations and broader institutional changes that made worldwide commodity and factor flows possible. Four broad periods, or trade policy regimes, can be discerned at the European level. The first starts at the end of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars that had led to many disruptions in trade relations. Governments tried to recover from the financial impact of the wars and to mitigate the adjustment shocks to domestic producers that came with the end of the wars. Very restrictive trade policies were thus adopted in most places and only slowly dismantled over the following decades as some of the welfare costs of, for example, agricultural protection became evident. The second period dated from the mid-1840s, which saw the liberalization of protective grain tariffs in many European countries, to the mid-1870s, when trade liberalization reached its maximum. This period witnessed unilateral trade liberalizations, but is most famous for the spread of a network of bilateral trade agreements across Europe in the wake of the Cobden–Chevalier treaty between France and the United Kingdom in 1860. From the 1870s, industrial and commercial crises and falling prices in agriculture due to global market integration led governments to search for solutions to these policy challenges. Many European countries thus increased protection for agriculture and manufactured goods in which domestic import-competing producers struggled. At the same time, demands for renegotiations threatened the treaty network, and lapsing agreements were only provisionally prolonged. From the late 1880s, the struggle between protection for import-competing producers and market access abroad for export-oriented producers led to internal and external conflicts over trade policy in many countries, including trade (or tariff) “wars.” A renewed network of less ambitious trade treaties than those of the 1860s restored a fragile equilibrium from the early 1890s, to be renewed and renegotiated roughly every 12 years as treaties approached their expiration date. When looking at the country and commodity level it can easily be appreciated that the more or less common shifts during these periods at the European level were more pronounced in some countries than in others. For example, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium shifted more decisively to free trade and remained there, while liberalization was much less pronounced and more decisively undone in Portugal, Spain, Russia, and the Habsburg monarchy. The experiences of the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and France lie somewhere in between. Turkey and the countries that gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century started as (forced) free traders and from the 1880s increased their duties, in part to meet growing fiscal demands. At the commodity level, tariffs on raw materials remained generally low and did not follow the protectionist backlash that affected foodstuffs. One exception was (initially) “tropical” goods such as sugar, coffee, tea, and tobacco, where many countries levied high tariffs to extract fiscal revenue. For manufactured goods, liberalization and protectionist backlash were milder than in agriculture, although there are many exceptions to this rule.


Preferential Trade Agreements: Recent Theoretical and Empirical Developments  

James Lake and Pravin Krishna

In recent decades, there has been a dramatic proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) between countries that, while legal, contradict the non-discrimination principle of the world trade system. This raises various issues, both theoretical and empirical, regarding the evolution of trade policy within the world trade system and the welfare implications for PTA members and non-members. The survey starts with the Kemp-Wan-Ohyama and Panagariya-Krishna analyses in the literature that theoretically show PTAs can always be constructed so that they (weakly) increase the welfare of members and non-members. Considerable attention is then devoted to recent developments on the interaction between PTAs and multilateral trade liberalization, focusing on two key incentives: an “exclusion incentive” of PTA members and a “free riding incentive” of PTA non-members. While the baseline presumption one should have in mind is that these incentives lead PTAs to inhibit the ultimate degree of global trade liberalization, this presumption can be overturned when dynamic considerations are taken into account or when countries can negotiate the degree of multilateral liberalization rather than facing a binary choice over global free trade. Promising areas for pushing this theoretical literature forward include the growing use of quantitative trade models, incorporating rules of origin and global value chains, modeling the issues surrounding “mega-regional” agreements, and modelling the possibility of exit from PTAs. Empirical evidence in the literature is mixed regarding whether PTAs lead to trade diversion or trade creation, whether PTAs have significant adverse effects on non-member terms-of-trade, whether PTAs lead members to lower external tariffs on non-members, and the role of PTAs in facilitating deep integration among members.