This paper investigates the political and economic consequences of signing preferential trade agreements (PTAs) in authoritarian countries. Based on the Heckscher–Ohlin model of international trade and theories of inequality and regime transition, this paper argues that dictators sign PTAs as a means of consolidating their authoritarian rule. Specifically, PTAs help dictators reduce economic inequality by enriching poor laborers and thereby attenuating the threat of regime collapse. We support our theory with the data from seventy-odd authoritarian regimes from 1960 to 2006, and contribute to ongoing debates about the effects of both income inequality and economic globalization on autocratic resilience.
dictatorship, preferential trade agreement, income inequality, authoritarian breakdown, regime transition