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Bilateral Treaties and The Most-Favored-Nation Clause: The Myth of Trade Liberalization in the Nineteenth Century

  • Olivier Accominotti (a1) and Marc Flandreau (a1) (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 June 2011

Textbook accounts of the Anglo-French trade agreement of 1860 argue that it heralded the beginning of a liberal trading order. This alleged success holds much interest from a modern policy point of view, for it rested on bilateral negotiations and most-favored-nation clauses. With the help of new data on international trade (the RICardo database), the authors provide empirical evidence and find that the treaty and subsequent network of MFN trade agreements coincided with the end of a period of unilateral liberalization across the world. They also find that it did not contribute to expanding trade at all. This is contrary to a deeply rooted belief among economists, economic historians, and political scientists. The authors draw a number of policy lessons that run counter to the conventional wisdom and raise skepticism toward the ability of bilateralism and MFN arrangements to promote trade liberalization.

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