by Umut Aydin
Policymakers frequently introduce policies originating in other countries, even when they are initially sceptical that they will work in their own country. Researchers have called this phenomenon ‘policy transfer’ and have sought to explain why and how it happens. However, frequently it is hard to distinguish why policymakers in one country adopt a foreign-inspired model: Is it because the policy is imposed by a powerful country or an international organization as part of a trade deal or membership negotiations? Or do policymakers imitate other countries’ policies voluntarily but rather automatically, without reflecting on whether it is appropriate for them? Alternatively, do they learn from other countries, observing how they tackle similar problems and borrowing from successful examples?
In an article recently published in Policy & Politics titled Embracing policy innovations from abroad: the role of learning in Chile’s anti-cartel reforms, I explore foreign inspirations in policymaking. I propose a framework that distinguishes between policymakers responding to external pressures, policymakers imitating other countries and policymakers learning from other countries. I argue that, if policymakers are responding to a well-identified policy problem, are carefully articulating how the foreign-inspired model responds to the problem, and adjusting the policy to their country’s local conditions, they are more likely to be learning rather than imitating or being pressured.
I explore these arguments in the case of foreign-inspired reforms to the Chilean competition law meant to combat business cartels, that is, agreements among firms to raise prices or share markets. In 2009, following the example of the United States and the recommendations of the OECD, Chilean policymakers introduced a leniency program, allowing the authorities to exempt a company from fines if it comes forward with evidence of a cartel. In 2016, Chilean policymakers introduced criminal sanctions, including prison sentences, for cartel offense.
Analysing primary and secondary sources and congressional debates as well as conducting interviews with key actors, I found that Chilean policymakers introduced these reforms as a result of learning from other countries and the OECD. In the early-mid 2000s, they identified collusion among businesses as a growing problem and began exploring policies tried in other countries as well as the recommendations of the OECD. After careful reflection on how leniency and criminal sanctions helped to combat business cartels, they introduced these measures, and made adjustments to fit them better to the local context.
The article offers fresh insights on how policies from abroad are transferred to a country. It also suggests new lines of research about the sources of policy transfer. Chilean policymakers looked most carefully at the US and a handful of OECD countries for inspiration, rather than exploring alternatives. This suggests that learning may be biased by policymakers’ perceptions of what they consider to be successful or high-status countries rather than what works. Such a bias may present challenges, if policymakers are not learning from the most appropriate models. Therefore, it is worth further exploring from whom policymakers are learning and why.
You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:
Aydin, U. (2023). Embracing policy innovations from abroad: the role of learning in Chile’s anti-cartel reforms, Policy & Politics, 51(2), 250-270 from https://doi.org/10.1332/030557321X16757803181683
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Duong, H. (2022). How do policy transfer mechanisms influence policy outcomes in the context of authoritarianism in Vietnam?, Policy & Politics, 50(2), 199-223 from https://doi.org/10.1332/030557321X16347665146401
Mallinson, D. J. (2021). Growth and gaps: a meta-review of policy diffusion studies in the American states, Policy & Politics, 49(3), 369-389 from https://doi.org/10.1332/030557321X16119271286848