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Trade Policy and Global Poverty

Trade Policy and Global Poverty

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Free trade can help 500 million people escape poverty and inject $200 billion annually into the economies of developing countries, according to a new study from the Institute for International Economics. Trade Policy and Global Poverty by William R. Cline provides a comprehensive analysis of the potential for trade liberalization to spur growth and reduce poverty in developing countries. It quantifies the impact on global poverty of industrial-country liberalization, as well as liberalization by the developing countries. Cline finds that the stakes of the poor in trade policy are large. Global free trade would convey long-term economic benefits of about $200 billion annually to developing countries. Half or more of these gains would come from the removal of industrial-country protection against developing-country exports. By removing their trade barriers, industrial countries could convey economic benefits to developing countries worth about twice the amount of their annual development assistance. By helping developing countries grow through trade, moreover, industrial countries could lower costs to consumers for imports and realize other increased economic efficiencies.

The study further estimates that free trade could reduce the number of people in global poverty (earning less than $2 per day) by about 500 million over 15 years. This would cut the world poverty level by an additional 25 percent. Agricultural liberalization alone contributes about half of these gains. Cline judges that the developing countries were right to risk collapse of the Doha Round at the CancA?n ministerial meeting in September 2003 by insisting on much deeper liberalization of agriculture than the industrial countries were then willing to offer.

The study calls for a two-track strategy. The first track is deep multilateral liberalization involving phased but complete elimination of protection by industrial countries and deep reduction of protection by at least the middle-income developing countries, albeit on a more gradual schedule. The second track is immediate free entry for imports from "high risk" low-income countries (heavily indebted poor countries, least developed countries, and sub-Saharan Africa), coupled with a 10-year tax holiday for direct investment in these countries.