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Joining the Global Trade Regime: The Impact of Autocratic Trade Agreements

Sat, September 2, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Hilton Union Square, Nob Hill 1


Recent literature has shown that regime type matters when it comes to trade policy: democracies are more likely to join trade agreements than autocracies. I build on this finding by developing a theory of autocratic trade agreements. Specifically, I argue that existing research has paid too much attention to the number of agreements signed across regime types and insufficient attention to the form and content of these agreements. I show that autocracies tend to join “shallower” PTAs than democracies, in the sense of agreements that do not require significant trade policy adjustments. In addition, they are more likely to enter into bilateral agreements and agreements with other nondemocracies. This has important consequences for autocratic trade policy. Compared to democracies, autocracies tend to have different reasons for joining trade agreements, including strengthening strategic alliances with other autocracies and making strategic trade policy concessions to members of the winning coalition. As a result, I find that many autocratic PTAs either have no effect on trade or even lead to increased protectionism. I also argue that there is variation within autocracies with respect to the content of trade agreements. Specifically, I develop a regime typology whereby export-oriented, competitive autocracies sign fewer, but “deeper” PTAs compared to import-oriented, personalist regimes. My theory is supported by empirical analysis of autocratic PTAs from 1950-2010.