“In trade policy debates, the issue of unilateralism versus reciprocity (where reciprocity of access is insisted on instead) is a long standing one. The theoretical arguments used by proponents of either policy stance are well known: Unilateralists rely upon the demonstration that in the absence of ‘‘distortions,’’ free trade is efficient, while a policy stance of reciprocity is theoretically supported by the presence of ‘‘terms-of-trade’’ and political economy motivations in the economy. “England’s famous unilateral repeal of its Corn laws saw free traders and reciprotarians actively pitted against each other [… and it only came] after decades of attempts to negotiate lower tariffs with its trading partners’ (Krishna and Mitra 2005).
A criticism of unilateral liberalisation is that it ‘wastes’ the bargaining chip of access to the domestic market. “Some people would say [UTL is] akin to unilateral disarmament--that […] all of leverage to encourage others to liberalize” is lost (Ikenson 2006). But this logic should apply only to big countries. Developing countries would gain far more from unilateral trade liberalization than from multilateral trade liberalization negotiated over many years (Nogues 1990). Maybe small countries are resistant to proceed with UTL as they would lose the possible enhanced non-trade related cooperation that comes with the signing of an FTA.
In any case UTL makes sense since "although there are benefits from improved access to other countries' markets, countries benefit most from liberalizing their own markets” (IMF 2001). Import competition boosts productivity and living standards by shifting resources towards relatively more productive activities. This is the case for most developing countries as noted in the World Bank report (2005): UTL was “undertaken to increase the productivity of the domestic economy [as it] promotes global competitiveness by lowering costs of inputs, increasing competition from imports to drive productivity growth, and integrating the national economy into the global economy. Autonomous trade reform is, ironically, more important than ever in the presence of RTAs; low border barriers minimize the risks of trade and investment diversion.”
Finally, an argument comes from a blogger in the
Ikenson, Daniel (2006) “U.S. Trade Policy in the Wake of Doha: Why Unilateral Liberalization Makes Sense”, Presentation by Daniel Ikenson, Cato Institute,
International Monetary Fund (2001), “Global Trade Liberalization and the Developing Countries,” November
Nogues, Julio (1990) The Choice Between Unilateral and Multilateral Trade Liberalization Strategy, The World Economy 13 (1)
Oplas (2008) “Unilateral Trade liberalization” on Government and Taxes blog
World Bank (2005) Global economic prospects 2005 : trade, regionalism and development
WTO (2007) The economics and political economy of International trade cooperation, WORLD TRADE REPORT 2007