The Roots of Latin American Protectionism: Looking Before the Great Depression

John H. Coatsworth, Jeffrey G. Williamson

NBER Working Paper No. 8999
Issued in June 2002
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, International Trade and Investment, Labor Studies

This paper uncovers a fact that has not been well appreciated: tariffs in Latin America were far higher than anywhere else in the century before the Great Depression. This is a surprising fact given that this region has been said to have exploited globalization forces better than most during the pre-1914 belle epoque and for which the Great Depression has always been viewed as a critical policy turning point towards protection and de-linking from the world economy. This paper shows that the explanation cannot lie with output gains from protection, since, while such gains were present in Europe and its non-Latin offshoots, they were not present in Latin America. The paper then explores Latin American tariffs as a revenue source, as a protective device for special interests, and as the result of other political economy struggles. We conclude by asking whether the same pro-protection conditions exist today as those which existed more than a century ago.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8999

Published: Estevadeordal, A., D. Rodrik, A. Taylor and A. Velasco (eds.) INTEGRATING THE AMERICAS: FTAA AND BEYOND. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

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