The Adjustment Process and the Timing of Trade Liberalization

100 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2004 Last revised: 28 Jun 2010

See all articles by Michael L. Mussa

Michael L. Mussa

International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Research Department; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: September 1984


This paper examines the appropriate time path of the tariff rate for a small open economy that has decided to move from protection of import competing industries to free trade. Adjustment costs for moving resources to alternative uses do not provide a rationale for gradual adjustment of the tariff rate because in the absence of distortions, rational optimizing agents will make socially appropriate investment decisions with respect to adjustment when they are qiven correct price signals. Some distortions of the adjustment process imply the desirability of gradual adjustment of the tariff rate to slow adjustment, but other distortions imply the desirability of subsidizing imports in the short run in order to speed movement of resources out of previously protected industries. Concern with the income redistribution effects of reductions in the tariff rate(which usually injure owners of factors in previously protected industries) does provide a general rationale for a gradual move to free trade. The influence of the unemployment consequences of tariff reduction on the appropriate path of commercial policy depends on the nature and shape of the respone of the rate of resource reallocation to the level of unemployment in previously protected industries.

Suggested Citation

Mussa, Michael L., The Adjustment Process and the Timing of Trade Liberalization (September 1984). NBER Working Paper No. w1458, Available at SSRN:

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