Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



F13 - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations, F53 - International Agreements and Observance; International Organizations, N40 - Economic History: Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation: General, International, or Comparative, B00 - History of Economic Thought, Methodology, and Heterodox Approaches


In two pairs of episodes, first in 1824 and 1846 and then in 1892 and 1935, similar U.S.-Colombia trade agreements or their enabling laws were embraced first by protectionists and then by free traders. The history of the episodes supports the view that although political institutions exist to curb de facto political power, such power may be wielded to undo the institutions’ intended effects. The doctrinal affinities and interests of political actors are more decisive determinants of the free-trade or protectionist orientation of trade agreements than the agreements’ texts or legal superstructures. The long delay from signing to passage of the current U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is another case in point.