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26 Indiana J. Global Legal Studies 87 (2019)


Populism is telling voters what they want to hear, knowing that it is neither true, nor feasible. Lately, trade and economic integration has seen the spread of untrue and unfeasible tenets, which have proved to be highly popular and have received a warm welcome. Fueled by imperial fantasies and nostalgia for the long-gone era of protectionism, the tectonic movements of world trade have generated a good deal of populist resistance based on the self-delusion that the Gordian knot of world trade needs not to be disentangled but can be simply cut. Unfortunately, however popular and appealing these allegations are, they are not true. Reverting to protectionism simply does not pay out and faces two major, arguably unsurmountable, hurdles: the economic realities, which show that protectionism comes at a very high price even to those it strives to protect, and the disciplines of the WTO, which very much limit unilateral measures inspired by purely protectionist desires. This paper demonstrates three points. First, the modus operandi of international trade makes frontal protectionism self-destructing. Second, the current regime of world trade law developed under the auspices of the WTO significantly limits protectionist policies and leaves no room for a comprehensive protectionist policy. Third, while "taking back control" is an appealing yell, catering to the deepest tribal instincts, in reality, unimpeded sovereignty and unlimited freedom of action are increasingly a wishful thinking.