The impact of protection on trade: lessons from Britain’s 1930s policy shift

With protectionist pressures rising and the multilateral trading system seemingly at risk, it is natural to look to the 1930s for evidence of how protection affects the volume and pattern of trade. This column examines the impact of Britain’s decisive break with a longstanding tradition of free trade in 1931, when the country switched dramatically to a policy of protection, discriminating in favor of the British Empire. The shift explains roughly a quarter of Britain’s trade collapse, and around three quarters of the big increase in the British Empire’s share of British imports during the 1930s.

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