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date: 23 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

By the end of the nineteenth century, US decision-makers had to deal with growing demands from constituents for access to foreign markets; by the mid-twentieth century, US commercial policy had moved center stage as the country orchestrated a widespread globalization in production and trade. From the perspective of economic theory, the ‘appropriate’ policy would have been to reduce barriers to trade in line with a rise in productivity. However, the constitutionally imposed arrangement for tariff setting made high, and not low, tariffs the norm. The reason is found less in formal institutional reform than in constitutional constraints and presidential strategy, which helps account for shifts in US trade policy and the evolution of global trade liberalization. Careful analysis of institutional legacies and positive feedback effects assist in explaining key policy shifts in US trade policy and why international liberalization efforts have ebbed and flowed, though never been radically reversed since the Great Depression.

Keywords: United States, trade policy, international liberalization, WTO, positive feedback

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