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IB DP Economics Study Notes

4.3.1 Infant Industry Argument

The Infant Industry Argument elucidates the economic rationale behind the temporary protection of new, burgeoning industries that are not yet mature enough to compete with well-established foreign industries. The debate surrounding this argument sheds light on its multifaceted implications for economic development and international trade.


The Infant Industry Argument asserts that nascent industries, often in developing countries, struggle to establish themselves due to the formidable competition posed by foreign industries that have matured and achieved economies of scale. To enable these budding industries to grow, temporary protective measures such as tariffs, quotas, and subsidies are deployed, shielding them from international competition until they attain sufficient maturity and competitiveness.

A graph illustrating the infant industry argument for protectionism

Image courtesy of economicshelp

Pros and Cons


  • Development of Domestic Industries:
    • Infant industries, when protected, can foster innovation and enhance their production processes, leading to the creation of competitive domestic products.
    • The protection allows for the accumulation of experience and knowledge in production and management, setting a solid foundation for the future growth of the industry.
  • Employment and Economic Growth:
    • The nurturing of infant industries can result in significant job creation and, consequently, can be a vital source of economic growth and development.
    • As these industries mature and become competitive, they can penetrate international markets, thereby boosting exports and reducing reliance on imports, positively impacting the balance of trade.
  • Economic Diversification:
    • Protection of various infant industries can lead to economic diversification, mitigating risks associated with overreliance on a limited number of economic sectors.
    • A diversified economy is more resilient to economic shocks and fluctuations in commodity prices, which is particularly crucial for developing economies reliant on commodities.
  • Learning by Doing:
    • Industries gain invaluable experience, increase efficiency, and develop skills through the actual process of production, thus contributing to the overall improvement of industry competitiveness.


  • Resource Misallocation and Inefficiency:
    • Protectionist measures can lead to the allocation of resources to industries that are not inherently competitive or efficient, potentially impeding overall economic progress.
    • The distortion in market signals due to protectionism can lead to overinvestment and persistence of inefficiencies in protected sectors.
  • Increased Cost to Consumers:
    • The lack of competition in protected industries often results in higher prices and inferior quality of goods for consumers.
    • The restriction on imports limits the range of available goods, impacting consumer choice and overall welfare.
  • International Trade Repercussions:
    • Implementation of trade barriers can provoke retaliation from trading partners, resulting in a reduction in export opportunities and potentially escalating into trade wars.
    • The degradation of international trade relations can hamper global trade and economic cooperation, with long-lasting impacts on the global economy.
  • Enduring Dependency on Protection:
    • Industries might not endeavour to achieve efficiency and competitiveness if they become accustomed to protection, leading to perpetual dependency.
    • The persistence of protectionist measures can hinder industries from adapting and innovating, as the lack of competition reduces the incentive for improvement.

Real-World Examples

Example 1: United States’ Textile Industry

  • In the early 1800s, the U.S. textile industry was shielded from foreign competition through high tariffs, facilitating its growth and eventual global competitiveness.
  • The protection allowed for investment in technological advancements and innovations, bolstering the industry’s productivity and international standing.

Example 2: South Korean Automobile Industry

  • In the latter half of the 20th century, South Korea adopted protectionist policies for its automobile industry, allowing companies like Hyundai to mature without the pressure of foreign competition.
  • The nurtured companies grew into internationally renowned brands, contributing substantially to South Korea’s export repertoire and economic growth.

Example 3: Brazilian Computer Industry

  • Brazil’s protectionist policies in the 1980s aimed to foster its computer industry but are generally regarded as a failure of the infant industry argument.
  • The protection resulted in the production of obsolete models and systemic inefficiencies, with the industry struggling to compete on an international scale once the protective barriers were lifted.
A graph illustrating infant industry protection in Brazil

Image courtesy of numerade

Example 4: Japanese Photovoltaic Industry

  • The Japanese government's subsidies and protective measures enabled the photovoltaic industry to develop advanced solar power technology and reduce costs.
  • As a result, Japan is now a global leader in solar power technology, and the industry competes effectively in the global market.

Example 5: Argentinean Footwear Industry

  • Argentina implemented protective measures to nurture its footwear industry, promoting domestic production and competitiveness.
  • The industry has since developed resilience and is a notable contributor to Argentina’s economy, providing employment and fostering local entrepreneurship.


The Infant Industry Argument underscores the potential advantages of strategically insulating emerging industries from the full brunt of international competition, enabling them to flourish and mature. However, it is critical that such protection is temporary and meticulously calibrated to avoid the entrenchment of inefficiencies and dependency.

To prevent industries from becoming accustomed to a lack of competition, it is essential to avoid creating a scenario where they rely perpetually on protection from dumping, which can undermine the development of a competitive and innovative economy.

A judicious application of the Infant Industry Argument requires a harmonious balance between protection and exposure to competition. It involves periodic and rigorous assessment of the industries under protection to determine the necessity and extent of continuing support, ensuring alignment with broader economic goals and sustainable development.

It’s crucial for policymakers to comprehend that while the strategic implementation of protective measures can indeed foster industry development and economic diversification, the ultimate goal should be the creation of industries that are self-sustaining, innovative, and internationally competitive. An unwavering focus on innovation, efficiency, and continuous improvement is essential to realize the full potential of infant industries and to contribute significantly to national and global economic prosperity.

This nuanced and balanced approach ensures that the benefits derived from the implementation of the Infant Industry Argument, such as economic diversification, employment generation, and enhanced international competitiveness, are sustainable and conducive to the overall economic welfare and development of the nation.


Government intervention is pivotal in the success of the Infant Industry Argument. Governments need to implement apt protectionist measures such as tariffs, quotas, and subsidies to shield infant industries from international competition. Moreover, it is imperative for governments to facilitate a conducive environment through policy frameworks that encourage innovation, research and development, and skill acquisition. Equally crucial is the government’s role in withdrawing protectionist measures once industries have matured, ensuring they can compete globally and not foster dependency, inefficiency, and resource misallocation in the long run.

While the Infant Industry Argument aims to foster innovation and productivity by protecting emerging industries, its long-term effects can be counterproductive. Initial protection might encourage investment in research and development, leading to innovation and increased productivity. However, prolonged protection might lead to complacency and stagnation, as the lack of competitive pressure can reduce the incentive for continuous innovation and improvement in efficiency. Therefore, it is crucial that protectionist measures are temporary and strategically deployed to ensure that industries continue to evolve, innovate, and contribute to economic growth in the long term.

The Infant Industry Argument can impact resource allocation by directing resources towards protected industries, possibly at the expense of more efficient sectors. While the intention is to nurture and develop nascent industries, there is a risk of perpetuating inefficiencies and sustaining sectors that might not be internationally competitive, leading to resource misallocation. This misdirection of resources can, in turn, hinder overall economic efficiency and growth, as resources might be more productively employed in sectors where the country has a comparative advantage, yielding higher returns and fostering innovation and development.

Yes, the implementation of the Infant Industry Argument can indeed foster the creation of monopolies as it shields domestic companies from foreign competition. This absence of competition can lead to domestic firms gaining excessive market power, which can have detrimental effects. Monopolistic firms can exploit consumers through price exploitation and may lack the incentive to innovate or improve product quality, impacting consumer welfare and economic efficiency. Furthermore, monopolies might become complacent and inefficient due to lack of competition, which can have long-term negative impacts on the industry and the economy.

The Infant Industry Argument is closely related to the concept of economies of scale as it predicates that protecting young industries allows them to grow and achieve economies of scale, thereby reducing per-unit costs through increased production levels. This argument posits that once the industries are sufficiently mature and have achieved the necessary economies of scale, protectionist measures can be lifted, allowing them to compete effectively in the international market. By reaching optimal production levels, these industries can also innovate, improve product quality, and contribute significantly to national economic development and competitiveness.

Practice Questions

Evaluate the effectiveness of implementing the Infant Industry Argument as a means to foster economic development, considering both its potential benefits and drawbacks.

The Infant Industry Argument can be effectively used to foster economic development, as it allows emerging industries to develop without the intense pressure of foreign competition, leading to innovation, employment creation, and economic growth, as evidenced by South Korea’s automobile industry. However, its effectiveness is contingent on meticulous implementation and timely withdrawal of protectionist measures. Otherwise, it can lead to resource misallocation, inefficiency, and a perpetual dependency on protection, as observed in Brazil's computer industry. Thus, while it has notable benefits, it requires strategic deployment and management to actualise its economic development potential.

Delineate the potential repercussions on consumers and international trade relations due to the application of the Infant Industry Argument.

Application of the Infant Industry Argument often leads to increased costs and limited choices for consumers due to the lack of competition and restriction on imports. It can potentially lead to the production of inferior goods, impacting consumer welfare negatively. Additionally, it can strain international trade relations as protectionist measures such as tariffs and quotas can provoke retaliation from trading partners, potentially escalating into trade wars and hindering global economic cooperation. These repercussions highlight the necessity for balanced and well-considered implementation of protectionist measures to mitigate adverse effects on consumers and international relations.

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Written by: Dave
Cambridge University - BA Hons Economics

Dave is a Cambridge Economics graduate with over 8 years of tutoring expertise in Economics & Business Studies. He crafts resources for A-Level, IB, & GCSE and excels at enhancing students' understanding & confidence in these subjects.

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