Protectionism is on the rise in many parts of the world, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only partly to blame. This is hardly a new phenomenon. When I was Indonesia’s trade minister a decade ago, trade liberalization certainly did not have broad popular support.

Although lowering or eliminating tariffs usually benefits many producers and consumers, it might endanger the livelihoods of some. Understandably, they loudly opposed such measures. A fuller understanding of the uneven distributional effects of trade — put simply, who gains and who loses, where and why — is critical to design better supporting policies and to provide governments with the right narrative to allay such concerns.

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