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Termites in the Trading System: How Preferential Agreements Undermine Free Trade (Council of Foreign Relations) Hardcover – July 14, 2008

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Product Details

  • Series: Council of Foreign Relations
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195699661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195331653
  • ASIN: 0195331656
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.9 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,049,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The world's foremost trade policy scholar explains why what he calls 'preferential trade arrangements' are not a path towards global free trade, but a dangerous step away from it. A long-standing and brave opponent of these arrangements and particularly of those between hegemonic powers and developing countries, Jagdish Bhagwati explains how they promote costly trade diversion, interfere with the efficient operation of global business and allow great powers to extract unjustified concessions from weaker countries. This book underlines the abiding wisdom of non-discrimination, the now almost completely forgotten founding principle of the world trading system, and concludes that the only way to return to sanity is by movement towards free market access for all."
--Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator, Financial Times

"Highly recommended."--CHOICE

"Jagdish Bhagwati is one of the world's most distinguished economists. ...a rare academic who has the great ability to communicate his ideas to a more general audience. ...written with a light touch, with many amusing stories, examples, and effective argumentation that make it, above and beyond its policy significance, a genuine pleasure to read. ... Mr. Bhagwati's concise book of just 100 pages of text should be read by all who care about the world trading system today."--The New York Sun

"With layoffs in the auto sector and bailouts in the housing sector, exports are one of the few bright spots in the American economy. ... Begging the question: How can we sell even more? Columbia University economics professor Jagdish Bhagwati, for decades a leading international scholar on trade theory and practice, has some ideas."--New York Post

"Termites is a slim volume, but there is a lifetime of economic learning in it, expressed in clear, often witty, language that is accessible to interested lay readers. ...likely to be widely read."--Far Eastern Economic Review

"The founding fathers of the postwar trading system wisely chose non-discrimination as its central principle. But the last fifteen years have witnessed its erosion due to the proliferation of Preferential Trading Agreements. Jagdish Bhagwati, the leading trade economist of our time, rang first the alarm bells about the resulting spaghetti bowl of discriminatory rules and regulations. Now, with his usual blend of brilliance, wit and bluntness, he describes the rise of PTAs and analyzes why it has occurred and how it threatens the multilateral trading system. This book is essential reading not only for economists and trade diplomats, but for anyone concerned with the design of the institutions that are central to our prosperity.
--Andre Sapir, Professor of Economics, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Former economic adviser to European Commission president Romano Prodi (2001-2004)

About the Author

Jagdish Bhagwati is University Professor, Economics and Law, at Columbia University and Senior Fellow in International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has been uniquely celebrated with six festschrifts in his honor. His latest book, In Defense of Globalization (Oxford, 2004), a huge success worldwide, has just been reissued with an Afterword. He has received several honorary degrees and awards, among them the Freedom Prize (Switzerland), the Bernhard Harms Prize (Germany) and recently the Thomas Schelling Award (Kennedy School, Harvard). He is on Wired Magazine's Smart List 2008, naming "15 People the Next President Should Listen To".

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Andrew L. Elek on February 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is not Bhagwati at his best.
A lot of anecdotes, but more advocacy than analysis.
I agree with his view, but the book lacks gravitas.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K G R VINE VOICE on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Bhagwati, a well-known proponent of unconditional free trade, wrote this book to critique the numerous bilateral or plurilateral free-trade agreements ( a/k/a preferential trade agreements or PTA's). As always, Bhagwati expounds his view that all States should eliminate tariffs and any restrictions on trade.

Bhagwati's intellectual arrogance shines throughout. He cites to his own previous works on nearly every second page of the book. Humorously, he repeatedly lauds his own publications and efforts. Then he arrogantly derides and insults those who dare to disagree with him and his free trade mantra, but offers little in the way of serious replies. I suspect that most reading this book are proponents of free trade and that therefore most of the book amounts to preaching to the converted. But if you are not an unconditional fan of the WTO I suspect that you'll find this book comically inadequate.

The author argues that PTA's are a "danger" because they serve to undermine universal most favored nation (MFN) status. This means that rather than relying solely on the WTO GATT system, whereby each country accords each other's products the same tariffs, countries with PTA's provide each other with more preferential tariff rates. Bhagwati mocks countries for entering into PTA's based on geography or cultural reasons, rather than for pure economic benefit. But the author, like all too many economists, seems to fail to grasp the concept that profits and economic utility are not the only considerations in our decisions. Bhagwati is obviously correct that the US trades a great deal with many countries with which the US does not PTA's, and that some coutries with which the US does have PTA's (e.g. Israel, Jordan) account for a relatively small portion of US trade.
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By Steve Bornell on September 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book contains some good information about international trade and brings up some strong points about prefferential trade agreements. It is troubling when prefferential trade agreements are used to promote trade unrelated issues and when politicians promote them without full knowledge of the impacts on both sides.
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