Tim Brinton

The Two Rabbits of International Trade

If you chase two rabbits at once, the old saying goes, both will escape. This idea matters a lot in trade policy, which must simultaneously seek to harness the economic benefits of greater openness and to ensure that those benefits are distributed fairly.

SEOUL – If you chase two rabbits at once, the old saying goes, both will escape. And yet this is precisely what many governments are required to do: pursue both growth and distributional fairness. The two objectives, though not incompatible, are entirely different from one another, and few policy tools can simultaneously help to achieve both.

This idea matters a lot in trade policy. Much theoretical and empirical research demonstrates that opening trade can spur a country’s GDP growth. But increasing a pie’s size does not guarantee that it will be shared fairly.

Often, the incremental growth that comes with a trade opening is unevenly shared; moreover, in many cases, some receive a smaller share than they did before. Here is where government must intervene using its traditional tools, taxation and redistribution, as well as complementary policies such as social safety nets and adjustment assistance.

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