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Economy

China resorting less often to protectionism

Data show US building trade barriers far more quickly than emerging Asia

BEN HEUBL, Data journalist | China

LONDON -- China, the Philippines and Thailand have been resorting to protectionism less frequently in recent years, despite being targeted more often with discriminatory commercial measures by other governments, a Nikkei Asian Review study has revealed.

The study looked at the number of protectionist measures implemented by and affecting countries over two time periods: from the financial crisis of 2008 to 2012, and since 2013. The analysis shows how Western protectionism was affecting Asia's rising markets even before Donald Trump's "America first" presidency.

Not surprisingly, there was a strong correlation between an increase in a nation's barriers and the number of trade measures attacking it. Yet, since Obama took office in 2009, the results for China, the Philippines and Thailand deviated from this pattern. Targeted with more measures, these and other Asian countries were less inclined to introduce new restrictions of their own.

The measures in question include everything from efforts to limit labor market access, such as a U.S. government lawsuit against a company that hired foreign workers, to market-distorting interventions like the Brazilian development bank's extension of a $53 million credit line to software company Linx Sistemas.

Generally, a northwestern move within the chart implies that a country is slowing down its adoption of new protectionist measures, while the hits to its commercial interests from foreign protectionism are increasing, explained Simon Evenett, professor of economics at the University of St. Gallen and coordinator of the Global Trade Alert. This does not necessarily mean the countries have become less protectionist overall, he noted, since their barriers continue to increase.

Consider South Korea. The country has refrained from implementing many more measures than in the past, yet the barriers affecting it grew by a staggering rate of nearly 20%. 

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