Explaining Protective Trade Policies: Political Economy, Trade and Media Effects
This paper draws on communications research to complement existing models of the political economy of trade policy by introducing the role of media as an institution interacting with policy makers, special interest groups and the public, influencing the formulation of policy and supporting a bias towards protective trade policies. Through the concepts of framing and perceived public opinion, media can contribute to and reinforce problem definitions and suggested solutions that limit the range of alternative policies available to policy makers. In the case of trade policy, established frames for conflict discourse that are efficiently represented in media give incentives to special interest groups to voice demands for support that focus on foreign adversaries, trade interventions and import restrictions. The hypothesis that media effects can contribute to trade policies based on tariffs or other forms of import restrictions is tested by an empirical examination of media coverage leading up to the U.S. decision to impose tariffs on imported steel in the spring 2002. The empirical study of news coverage in the New York Times suggests that to the extent that policy makers are concerned about real or perceived public opinion, they have incentives to adopt tariff-based or other import-restricting trade policies, rather than economically more efficient redistributive policies, wherever the conflict frame is prevalent and special interest groups have media access.
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