GIS Dossier: Global trade and protectionism

Mock mourners for the WTO at a demonstration in Nairobi, Kenya
Dec. 17, 2015: Activists stage a mock Korean funeral for the World Trade Organization during its most recent Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya (source: dpa)
  • Trade liberalization has halted and even reversed since 2008
  • Barack Obama’s administration led a shift away from global trade frameworks
  • The global crisis stoked populist and interventionist attitudes inimical to free trade
  • President Trump’s economic program is ill-served by radical protectionism
  • The geopolitical consequences of a punitive U.S. trade regime could be even worse

The world has seen a dramatic expansion of trade over the past 35 years. The contribution of trade flows to world gross domestic product (GDP) jumped to 55.9 percent in 2010 from 39.4 percent in 1980. This has not been accidental. As late as 1986, the average tariff on goods traded internationally was more than 25 percent. By 2010, it was down to 8.1 percent. This is “the result of conscious policy decisions by governments to broaden and globalize world markets,” GIS expert Terry Miller wrote back in March 2012. “That required a lot of hard political bargaining to wrench protected firms and special interests into the global marketplace. But the payoffs in growing productivity and higher incomes has been tremendous.”

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