Winners in a trade war

February 11, 2009

Trade protectionism — or at least the threat of it — has raised it head as the global economy has declined, bringing with it all the historical fears about the Great Depression. Consider the flurry of concern about a “Buy American” clause in one of the U.S. stimulus bills.

It is traditionally assumed that widespread protectionism would most hurt the biggest economies, the United States and Japan. But Barclays Capital analyst David Woo says this is not so and that Russia, Canada, Australia and Sweden are the most vulnerable.

Woo studied various factors that would play on the effect of protectionism on a country, from openness and flexibility to its dependence on trade and it savings.

Japan turned out to be the least vulnerable. “Its relative closeness, relative flexibility of its labour market, and its terms of trade more than outweigh the negative contribution to its growth from a narrowing of its trade surplus in a global protectionist environment,” Woo writes.

As for the United States, “the only reason why it failed to take first place is because of its extremely low saving rate, which will limit the scope for domestic demand to offset falling exports.”

Mexico, ┬áIndia and China took the third, fourth and fifth places, respectively. So it’s not all about emerging markets.

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