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Working Papers

November 2023, No. 23-12

Heterogeneous Districts, Interests, and Trade Policy

Kishore Gawande, Pablo M. Pinto and Santiago Pinto

Congressional districts are political entities with heterogeneous trade policy preferences due to their diverse economic structures. Representation of these interests in Congress is a crucial aspect of trade policymaking that is missing in canonical political economy models of trade. In this paper, we underscore the influence of districts by developing a political economy model of trade with region-specific factors. Using 2002 data from U.S. Congressional Districts, we first characterize the unobserved district-level demand for protection. Extending the model beyond the small country assumption to account for export interests as a force countering protection, we develop a model of national tariff-setting. The model predictions are used to estimate the welfare weights implied by tariff and non-tariff measures enacted nationally. Our supply-side explanation for trade policy, while complementing Grossman and Helpman (1994), reveals district and industry-level patterns of winners and losers, central to understanding the political consequences of trade and the backlash against globalization.

Supplementary Appendix

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