How far down the path to free trade? The importance of rice price stabilization in developing Asia
International trade agreements are pushing the world in the direction of free trade. But price stabilization, which is inconsistent with completely free trade, remains important in developing Asia because of the large share of rice in economic output. A policy of pure price stabilization for rice, without consistent protection (either subsidization or taxation), can help to create the macroeconomic stability that is essential for sustained rapid economic growth by increasing the quantity and efficiency of investment throughout the economy. Pure price stabilization can also generate significant equity gains by protecting poor consumers and farmers from sharp fluctuations in prices. While domestic commodity price stabilization schemes have a checkered history around the world, the experience of Asian countries in stabilizing rice prices offers more scope for optimism. Asian governments have been generally successful in stabilizing rice prices, and there are several instances where this has been accomplished without sustained protection of either consumers or farmers. However, there is room for improved stabilization mechanisms that would lower the costs of intervention.
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