US-China conflict in global trade governance: The new politics of agricultural subsidies at the WTO

Kristen Hopewell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

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article, however, I challenge this prevailing conception of the agricultural subsidies issue, arguing that it is now out of date and no longer corresponds with the emerging reality.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
Pages (from-to)207-231
Number of pages25
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number2
Early online date16 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

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


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