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Traditional comparative advantage vs. increasing returns to scale: NAFTA and the GATT

Chichilnisky, Graciela (1994): Traditional comparative advantage vs. increasing returns to scale: NAFTA and the GATT. Published in: International Problems of Economic Interdependence (1994): pp. 161-197.

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Abstract

Regional free trade zones have been unexpectedly successful in the last decade. Since 1980 the European Community enlarged significantly its membership and its scope. It now includes southern European countries, and market-integrating features allowing goods, people, services and capital to flow freely around an area accounting for about one fourth of world economic output. Based on economies of scale - we find a condition that determine whether trading blocks Such as NAFTA and the EU are complementary with and encourage global free trade - when this condition fails, instead, trading blocks undermine free trade.

It is the purpose of this paper to re-examine the positive and negative aspects of trading blocs as they relate to gains from free trade. The paper is primarily a discussion of conceptual issues, although it is based on facts and on particular cases which are of interest to the trade liberalization in the Americas.

We take a somewhat different approach to a familiar issue. Rather than asking the standard question of whether regional blocs help or hinder global free trade, we ask a more detailed question: what type of customs union is likely to lead to a trade war between the blocs, and what type of customs union is, instead, likely to lead to expanded global trade. In practical terms: what type of trade policies within the blocs will provide economic incentives for expanding free trade.

We shall compare the impact on the world economy of free trade blocs which are organized around two alternative principles: one is traditional comparative advantages, the other is economies of scale. The aim is to determine how the patterns of trade inside the blocs determine the trade relations among the blocs.

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