The U.S. services sector, including industries such as business and professional services, communications, construction, healthcare, education, and finance, accounts for the preponderance of U.S. economic output. Americans spend twice as much on services as they do on goods and 80 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in services industries.

Despite the prevalence of non-tariff barriers to services trade – including outright restrictions against foreign firms participating in a slew of domestic service industries – services trade has grown faster than trade in goods over the past 25 years. But much greater effort to overcome a variety of non-tariff barriers – including regulations and standards “behind the border” – is needed to achieve greater levels of specialization and also to enable the economies of scale required to support continued increases in U.S. and global living standards.

Non-tariff barriers affect goods trade, as well as services trade, and the rules disciplining this form of protectionism are less clearly articulated. As the reduction of tariffs and other traditional border barriers induced substantial increases in goods trade following World War II, more attention now must be turned to the task of reducing non-tariff barriers to both goods and services trade.

On this page you will find Cato’s work on trade in services, regulatory protectionism, and other forms of non-tariff barriers to trade.

More on Services Trade and Non-Tariff Barriers


Trump Has Whiffed on Trade So Far. Here’s What He Needs to Do in 2018

By Simon Lester. January 9, 2018.

A Giant Puffing Sound

By Simon Lester. U.S. News & World Report (Online). December 15, 2017.

Let’s Be Honest about Trade Agreements and Domestic Regulation

By Simon Lester. Huffington Post. May 3, 2016.

Cato Studies

Renegotiating NAFTA in the Era of Trump: Keeping the Trade Liberalization In and the Protectionism Out

By Simon Lester, Inu Manak, and Daniel J. Ikenson. Working Paper No. 46. August 14, 2017.

Cybersecurity or Protectionism? Defusing the Most Volatile Issue in the U.S.–China Relationship

By Daniel J. Ikenson. Policy Analysis No. 815. July 13, 2017.

Patent Rights and Imported Goods

By Daniel R. Pearson. Policy Analysis No. 780. September 15, 2015.


Addressing Regulatory Trade Barriers in Mega-Regional Trade Agreements

Simon Lester and Inu Manak. Mega-Regional Trade Agreements. July 21, 2017.

Financial Services in the TTIP: Making the Prudential Exception Work

Inu Manak and Simon Lester. Georgetown Journal of International Law. Vol. 45. No. 4. 2014.

The Challenge of Cooperation: Regulatory Trade Barriers in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Simon Lester and Inu Manak. Journal of International Economic Law. Vol. 16. No. 4. December 2013.

Public Filings

The Pilot Program on NAFTA Long-Haul Trucking Provisions

By Daniel Griswold. Testimony. May 4, 2011.

Cato Reviews & Journals

Combating Regulatory Protectionism

Policy Report. July/August 2013.