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Opening Markets: Rules, Norms, and Bargaining in Trade Treaties

Jun 2017
Working Paper
Judith Goldstein, Robert Gulotty

The emergence of trade policy as a divisive political issue, both in the United States and abroad, has led to a critical re-interpretation the practice of trade negotiation. At issue is the nature of trade agreements and whether or not one side, or the other, is the better negotiator. In the United States, socalled “bad deals” have been rationalized as the cost of international leadership. But, is this defense of trade treaties justified or more fundamentally, a correct depiction of the content of the agreements? This paper focuses on the micro-foundations of trade treaties, explaining how and why particular products ended up as part of a tariff bundle. The analysis is based on newly available information on what was offered and given in the first Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). What we find is scant support for the United States having followed a ‘beneficent’ trade policy. Rather, we find that post WWII, the United States neither offered, nor concluded, a trade agreement that put trading partners first, even those that had suffered during the war. This finding casts doubt on the conventional description and thus explanation for how and why the United States created the liberal international order.

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