Trade Policy and Economic Growth: A Skeptic's Guide to the Cross-National Evidence
Do countries with lower policy-induced barriers to international trade grow faster, once other relevant country characteristics are controlled for? There exists a large empirical literature providing an affirmative answer to this question. We argue that methodological problems with the empirical strategies employed in this literature leave the results open to diverse interpretations. In many cases, the indicators of openness used by researchers are poor measures of trade barriers or are highly correlated with other sources of bad economic performance. In other cases, the methods used to ascertain the link between trade policy and growth have serious shortcomings. Papers that we review include those by Dollar (1992), Ben-David (1993), Sachs and Warner (1995), Edwards (1998), and Frankel and Romer (1999). We find little evidence that open trade policies—in the sense of lower tariff and nontariff barriers to trade—are significantly associated with economic growth.