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Published by EH.NET (February 1999)

Wendy Asbeek Brusse, Tariffs, Trade and European Integration 1947-1957:

From Study Group to Common Market, St. Martins Press, New York, 1997.

xiii + 318 pp. $49.95 (hardback), ISBN: 0312165188.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Catherine R. Schenk, Department of Economic and Social

History, University of Glasgow.

It is a courageous scholar who seeks to unravel the Byzantine history of trade

negotiations. Despite the general importance of trade policy to economic

performance and to

international political relations, the details of tariff bargaining are

notoriously arcane and tedious. Overcoming these drawbacks in her material,

Wendy Asbeek Brusse of the University of Groningen has written a comprehensive

and readable account of European trade diplomacy since 1945. Her main

contention is that tariff reduction was not merely a Common Market issue,

driven by The Six and culminating finally in the European Economic Community in

1957. Rather, tariff and trade negotiations took place simultaneously through

a variety of different international institutions and with a variety of goals

and outcomes. In an effort to present a more comprehensive and accurate account

of the manifold approaches to trade liberalization, Asbeek Brusse has not shied

away from this complexity.

Her account begins with two introductory chapters which describe trade policy

from the nineteenth century to 1947. These chapters offer little new to our

understanding of the 1940s but they set the scene for the European initiatives

of the 1950s. The next three substantive chapters of the book rely on the

archival records of six countries to describe the tariff initiatives expressed

through various international agencies. The initiatives under the auspices of

the OEEC had limited results due to the reversal of liberalization in the

early 1950s as a result of balance of payments deficits associated with the

Korean War . This chapter is the only place in which Asbeek Brusse attempts to

measure the impact of tariff barriers but

she relies mainly on the limited existing studies. Her original contribution

is to compare the frequency distribution of each country’s tariffs according to

their nominal rate for each SITC group. The results are unsurprising;

identifying high and low tariff groups. She also examines the number of

complaints about tariff barriers from individual countries through the OEEC.

This data may have as much to reveal about politics within the OEEC as the

burden of tariffs on particular industries.

A more complete assessment of real effective tariffs would have helped to give

context to the book’s account of trade diplomacy. Asbeek Brusse’s failure to

attempt this, however, may be justified since the diplomatic efforts themselves

were based on nominal tariff rate s. This is a history of economic diplomacy

rather than an economic history of tariffs in Europe.

The various still-born European initiatives in the GATT are described in the

next chapter and the American response is also brought into the story at this

st age. The subsequent chapter outlines the tariff proposals which culminated

in the Common Market among The Six. A final chapter describes national

policy-making in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany in an attempt to put

international economic diplomacy into the context of domestic debates. This

chapter rather whets the appetite for more since it is clear that the national

policies summarized in previous chapters were the result of domestic

compromises which are more revealing about the construction of tariff policy

than the international wrangling which is the focus of the book. The conflict

between imperial preference and Britain’s economic interests is particularly

revealing in this regard.

Overall, this is a well written and detailed account of tariff policy with

only a few minor weaknesses. The account does not include the international

monetary arrangements or exchange controls which were also used to influence

trade patterns in Europe. Including these may have made an already complicated

story unmanageable, but it requires that the book be read along with existing

work on the sterling area and the EPU. The complexity of the institutional

structure sometimes creeps into the organization of Asbeek Brusse’s text. For

example, the overlap of tariff negotiations is reflected in the inclusion of

the Collective Approach to convertibility and the Annecy Round of GATT in the

chapter on the OEEC.

Finally, most of the tables and graphs are almost illegible which is an

irritation for the reader. Nevertheless,

Asbeek Brusse’s book will be of use to graduate students and other scholars

trying to disentangle the complexities of post-war tariff diplomacy.

(Catherine Schenk is senior lecturer in Economic History at the University of

Glasgow. She is the author of

Britain and the Sterling Area,

(Routledge, 1994) and over a dozen articles on international monetary relations

since 1945. She is currently doing research on international financial centers

and is writing a book on Hong Kong as an International Financial

Center–Emergence and Development, 1945-65.)