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RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS: WORKING PAPERS

A Commitment Theory of Subsidy Agreements

This paper examines the rationale for the rules on domestic subsidies in international trade agreements through a framework that emphasizes commitment. We build a model where the policy-maker has a tariff and a production subsidy at its disposal, taxation can be distortionary and the import-competing sector lobbies the government for favourable policies.

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The model shows that, under political pressures, the government will turn to subsidies when its ability to provide protection is curtailed by a trade agreement that binds tari¤s only. We refer to this as the policy substitution problem. When factors of production are mobile in the long-run but investments are irreversible in the short-run, we show that the government cannot credibly commit vis-à-vis the domestic lobby unless the trade agreement also regulates production subsidies, thus addressing the policy substitution problem. Finally, we employ the theory to analyze the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM) Agreement within the GATT/WTO system.

No: ERSD-2012-15

Authors:

Daniel Brou, University of Western Ontario — Michele Ruta, World Trade Organization

Manuscript date: September 2012

Key Words:

Trade Agreements, Trade Policy Credibility, Subsidy Rules, GATT/WTO

JEL classification numbers:

F13, F55, H25, D72

Disclaimer  back to top

This is a working paper, and hence it represents research in progress. This paper represents the opinions of the author, and is the product of professional research. It is not meant to represent the position or opinions of the WTO or its Members, nor the official position of any staff members. Any errors are the fault of the author. Copies of working papers can be requested from the divisional secretariat by writing to: Economic Research and Statistics Division, World Trade Organization, Rue de Lausanne 154, CH 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland. Please request papers by number and title.

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