Ingredients of trade success

Applied tariffs are less than half the levels of 25 years ago

OK, so I read World Bank documents for the pictures. It’s true…I’m not ashamed to admit it. The prose in these tomes is often glutinous but the graphs are great!

The chart shows why there’s much less interest, now, in tariff bindings, the currency of WTO agreements. The last big recession (2007-9), unlike those of the 20th century, led to hardly any new border barriers; although quite a few countries adopted measures that attempted to capture domestic demand.

Here’s a summary paragraph from the first ever Trade Strategy (pdf file about 1.2mg). It’s a pretty accurate summary of what seems to matter and what doesn’t. The WTO gets a cheery wave in the last sentence, but whether it’s “hail” or “farewell” is not yet clear.

Trade success today is determined by efficient internal transactions, low transport costs and easy access to quality services inputs. Traditional policies used to restrict trade (tariffs; non-tariff barriers) have proven to be largely ineffective instruments of economic policy for development. The priorities for current policy are to reduce trade costs for firms, including through more efficient trade facilitation and logistics; improve trade competitiveness by ensuring businesses have access to key inputs such as (trade) finance; and, increase cooperation between trading partners to integrate markets thereby allowing economies of scale to be realized and further specialization and diversification to occur. Such cooperation is being pursued regionally as well as through multilateral fora such as the World Trade Organization (WTO)

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