Tag: comparative advantage

Trade is generally argued to be good for economic growth, as it allows countries to specialise in those goods in which they have a comparative advantage and thus produce and consume more of all goods in total. However, trade inevitably leads to winners and losers, especially as countries impose tariffs on imports in order to protect domestic industries. This has been the case in the banana industry.

Banana growers in the former European colonies have long been protected by EU tariffs, helping to prevent competition from their Latin American banana growers. But, now things could be about to change. In December 2009, most of the nations concerned reached an agreement in Geneva for tariffs imposed by the EU to be gradually reduced.

The European Union had imposed no duty on bananas from their former colonies, but had imposed tariffs on banana imports from other countries. This meant that those countries now benefiting from zero import duty could sell their bananas for a much lower price, therefore restricting the other nations (who did have to pay an import duty) from competing effectively.

With the World Trade Organisation in attendance, an agreement was signed that puts an end to this trade dispute dating back over 2 decades. The Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy said:

‘This is a truly historic moment … After so many twists and turns, these complicated and politically contentious disputes can finally be put to bed. It has taken so long that quite a few people who worked on the cases, both in the Secretariat and in member governments have retired long ago.’

This trade war has been ongoing for many years and this agreement represents a big step in the right direction. With a fairer playing field in this banana market, countries in Latin America will now be much more able to compete with other nations. As economists argue that trade is good, a reduction in protectionist measures should be seen as a good thing and will benefit the countries concerned. The following articles consider this trade resolution.

Banana war ends after 20 years BBC News (8/11/12)
WTO: Historic signing ends 20 years of EU-Latin American banana disputes 4-Traders, WTO (8/11/12)
EU, Latin America nations mark end of ‘banana war’ Fox News (8/11/12)
Banana war ends after 20 years The Telegraph (9/11/12)
Infamous banana dispute ends Sky News (9/11/12)

Questions

  1. What is comparative advantage and how does it lead to gains from trade?
  2. How does a tariff help protect a country’s domestic industry?
  3. Using a diagram, illustrate the effect of a tariff being imposed on banana imports from Latin America. Is there a cost to society of such a policy?
  4. Now, show what happens when this tariff is removed by the EU. Who benefits and who loses?
  5. What is the role of the World Trade Organisation?
  6. How does a tariff affect a country’s ability to compete with other nations?

The article linked to below is an extract (printed in the Guardian) from a new book by Dan Atkinson and Larry Elliott (economics editor for the Guardian). The introduction to the article summarises its theme quite effectively:
“We don’t manufacture anything any more. Most of the world won’t buy our records or watch our films. Only our gift of the gab is keeping Britain’s economy ticking over. But how long can the hot air last, ask Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson “

Talk is cheap Guardian (18/5/07)


Questions
1. Explain the underlying trade performance of the UK in recent years for (a) trade in goods and (b) trade in services.
2. “Labour believes Britain is at the cutting edge of the knowledge economy and that Britain’s well-educated (sic), highly skilled (sic) and entrepreneurial (sic) workers are ready to kick German, American, Japanese and Chinese butt all round the global village.” Discuss the extent to which this is true.
3. Assess the extent to which the theory of comparative advantage can help explain the differences in trade performance outlined in the article.