Bras. Political Sci. Rev.2017;11(2):e0009.
The Trade Policy of Emerging Countries
As the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) has stimulated the access to new markets and enhanced the basis of non-discrimination and reciprocity in trade policies, it is easy to consider that this new economic and commercial order has been beneficial to emerging powers. These countries were able to expand their domestic productions and compete on more equal terms with developed countries. In her book, “The Trade Policy of Emerging Countries: Strategic Choices of Brazil and India”, Laura Carsten Mahrenbach departs from these assumptions, and instead pursues the objective of analyzing how domestic variables, such as economic interests and political ideas, are reflected in strategic choices made by two emerging powers, Brazil and India, in WTO negotiations.
To properly meet this task, the author divides the book into three main parts. Chapter 01 introduces methodological considerations and presents the research puzzle and main arguments; Chapters 02 through 05 applies the arguments and the domestic variables to Brazil’s and India’s behavior in the WTO, regarding trade liberalization and dispute settlements; and chapter 06 concludes by presenting the main findings, proposing a revised framework and summarizing new possibilities of research. In terms of methodological contribution, one of the most valuable accomplishments of Mahrenbach’s societal approach to fill a gap in theoretical studies that underestimated the role of domestic actors in trade policies. Also, the research design is clear and complete, and could be used as a model for further studies. However, a question that remains unaddressed and surpasses all the content of the book is the starting point based on the premise of the rational actor. The state is described as an agent that is primarily motivated by self-interest and that calculates means and ends in the decision-making process. This premise can be uncomfortable to those scholars who do not share this commitment. The author believes that rational action should not be an assumption per se, since governments evaluate costs and benefits before choosing an option to follow, but there are many studies that challenge the predominance of rational calculus as the main mechanism for decision making. In Foreign Policy Analysis, for instance, some authors (such as ) consider that actions can be irrational due to psychological aspects of the leader, to incompatible foreign policy objectives, to misperceptions and miscalculations about the other partner, and so on. To scholars who consider these subjective aspects as possible interferences in the decision-making process, Mahrenbach’s focus on rational calculation can be problematic.