US-China Conflict in Global Trade Governance: The New Politics of Agricultural Subsidies at the WTO

Kristen Hopewell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article shows how China’s rise has radically altered the politics of one of the most prominent and controversial issues in the global trading system: agriculture subsidies. Agriculture subsidies depress global prices and undermine the competitiveness and livelihoods of poor farmers, and therefore have been long seen as a symbol of the injustice of the trading system. The issue has traditionally been understood in North-South terms, with developed countries seen as the perpetrators of harm and developing countries as innocent victims. In this article, however, I challenge this prevailing conception of the agricultural subsidies issue, arguing that it is now out of date and no longer corresponds with the emerging reality. A momentous but underappreciated change has taken place, largely beneath the radar of IPE scholarship: China has emerged as the world’s largest subsidizer, profoundly transforming the global politics of agricultural subsidies. From a North-South battle, WTO negotiations on agricultural subsidies are now primarily centered on a conflict between the US and China. While reducing subsidies remains a pressing concern for developing countries, efforts to negotiate new and strengthened disciplines at the WTO have been thwarted by an impasse between the two dominant powers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Early online date16 Jan 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jan 2019


  • China
  • US
  • agricultural subsidies
  • World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • trade
  • global economic governance
  • trade negotiations


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