Sunday, 9 September 2012

Protectionism (Macroeconomics)

Protectionism refers to the protection of a domestic industry from foreign competition. There are many types of protectionism which i'll run through later on in this post. The free movement of goods and services is restricted between countries and economic blocs to try and protect a countries own industries from the powers of competition from abroad. The main types of protectionism are as follows:

  • Tariffs
  • Quotas
  • Voluntary Export Restraints
  • Foreign Exchange Restraints
  • Embargoes
  • Red Tape

Tariffs is very much self-explanatory. A tariff, or tax, on a good being imported into the country from abroad.  The effect of the tariff will be moving the supply curve of the good backwards by the value of the tariff. A tariff will protect domestic firms, especially new firms, by making it more expensive for goods to be imported and therefore raising the price, allowing home-grown firms to compete more. It's useful when it comes to goods from the likes of China and India. These countries have such low costs of production that they can afford to sell the goods at prices much lower than those of domestic firms in the United Kingdom. Therefore, these tariffs add to the production cost meaning that imported goods will cost more and allow domestic firms to compete more. 

A quota is also a fairly self-explanatory form of protectionism. It is a limit on the supply of a good or service into a country from abroad. An example would be a quota restriction on the import of t-shirts from China. The government may create this quota in the form of a number of goods, i.e 20,000 t-shirts per year, or they could do it by value, i.e £4 million worth of t-shirts per year. Supply of the good will fall which will in turn help domestic industries once again to compete as well as potentially raise the price of the goods. A problem with quotas, however, is that it can cause international disputes such as the one between China and the EU about the importing of Chinese textiles. More can be read about that by clicking here.

Voluntary export restraints are an agreement between one country and another to limit their exports to each other of certain goods. This is normally made between countries who are on good terms with one another or who are in the same economic bloc. Foreign exchange restrictions are a type of protectionism that doesn't appear much. This is when a government seeks to reduce imports by limiting the amount of foreign exchange made available to those within the country who wish to buy imported products. Basically, the supply of foreign money to buy these imports will be limited so not as may goods can be purchased from abroad. 

The final two now: embargoes are a ban on the import or export of products to/from a particular country. For example, a ban on weapons to a country with poor human rights records. Red tape is the idea of making importing difficult by creating lots of paperwork and procedures to delay and therefore discourage the imports. 

There is, of course, an argument for going ahead with protectionism. Firstly and potentially most importantly, it gives the government the ability to control imports which can therefore improve the trade balance. If the trade balance is in the red the government can use any form of protectionism in an attempt to curb spending on imports and improve the trade balance. Protectionism is very beneficial to declining domestic industries as well as the new industries. Both these industries aren't at the stage to be totally competitive and therefore could easily be wiped out from cheap imports. However, protecting them by limiting imports or raising the price allows these firms to get a proper foot in the market, expand and grow enough to be able to compete with the cheaper imported goods and services. Finally, it's also a method for generating revenue for the government if the protectionism comes in the form of a tariff. This tariff placed by the government goes straight in their pocket and can therefore help to eradicate budget deficits as well as improve investment power. 

With all advantages does come disadvantages, and the case of protectionism is no exception. Consumers will experience a welfare loss due to higher prices and the loss of consumer surplus. It can also be regressive for low income families as the protection will effect everyone equally, therefore those with less money will feel it the most. Raw materials may well become more expensive. This is far from beneficial for domestic industries as production costs will rise and therefore profits will be squeezed. Retaliation is another big thing that could crop up as a direct result. Putting a form of protectionism on imports from a certain country could cause that country to do the same back, which will restrict the exporting potential of the country and could worsen the balance of trade.  Finally, maybe a minor disadvantage, but there is the administration and implementation costs of the protections to take into account.

That pretty much sums up protectionism for you. Decide or yourselves whether you think they're beneficial or not, but at the end of the day forms of protectionism will always be used. Thanks for reading guys, stay tuned and share the blog if you find it useful!

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