Commentators are focused on the risk countries will respond to the worldwide slump in demand by resorting to protectionist measures (either competitive devaluations, tariff rises or other trade barriers) in a mutually self-defeating attempt to reserve what remains of shrinking demand for domestic industries — leading to trade wars, a reversal in the trend towards global integration and a fall in living standards.
Parallels with the 1930s abound. But the tariff wars of the 1930s belong to a vanished world of fixed exchange rates, militarism and failed multilateralism. The tariff history of the 1930s is not a good parallel for today’s world.
The real risk is a more insidious undeclared trade conflict based on rises in applied rates, non-tariff barriers, bad faith, and an upsurge in trade defenses as countries try to “allocate” scarce demand and placate industries and workers under particular pressure.
RAISING APPLIED TARIFF RATES
Each WTO member has a schedule of commitments in which it has agreed to “bind” the duty levied on particular items at no more than a specified rate.