To some extent, trade agreements and the rules of trade administered under the World Trade Organization (WTO) are superfluous. Americans would be better off if the U.S. government unilaterally adopted policies that enable freer trade - reducing tariffs, curtailing regulations and other policies that impede competition, etc. - regardless of what other governments do. We don’t need consent from Brussels, Tokyo or Beijing to implement the reforms that would make our economy more efficient.

But with political aversion to unilateral liberalization, trade agreements based on reciprocity have long been the vehicle of choice for reform. From the founding of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947 through the creation of the WTO in 1995, most U.S. trade liberalization was achieved through eight multilateral “rounds” of negotiations under the auspices of the GATT.

But multilateral trade liberalization has failed to produce meaningful results since the mid-1990s. Since then, bilateral and regional free trade agreements have emerged as preferred alternatives - with fewer countries involved, the issues are more manageable and it’s easier to reach agreement. By and large, trade agreements have helped reduce domestic impediments to trade, expand our economic freedoms and lock in positive reforms, even if only as the residual byproduct of an ill-premised mercantilist process.

On this page you will find Cato’s work on trade negotiations, agreements, disputes, and obligation undertaken in those agreements and at the WTO.

More on Trade Agreements and the WTO


Britain Should Prepare for the Article 50 Talks to Fail

By Ryan Bourne. City A.M.. April 4, 2017.

A Challenging Road Ahead for Our New US Trade Representative

By Daniel R. Pearson. The Hill (Online). March 14, 2017.

US Trade Laws and the Sovereignty Canard

By Daniel J. Ikenson. March 9, 2017.

Cato Studies

Should Free Traders Support the Trans- Pacific Partnership? An Assessment of America’s Largest Preferential Trade Agreement

By Daniel J. Ikenson, Simon Lester, Scott Lincicome, Daniel R. Pearson, & K. William Watson. Working Paper No. 39. September 12, 2016.

It’s Time to Dump Nonmarket Economy Treatment

By K. William Watson. Free Trade Bulletin No. 65. March 9, 2016.

Is the Doha Round Over? The WTO’s Negotiating Agenda for 2016 and Beyond

By Simon Lester. Free Trade Bulletin No. 64. February 11, 2016.


Six Degrees of Integration: How Closely Will the TTIP Integrate the Transatlantic Market?

Simon Lester. European Yearbook of International Economic Law. Vol. 7. July 17, 2016.

The TPP’s Contribution to Public International Law

Simon Lester. ASIL Insights. Vol. 19. No. 26. December 2, 2015.

Privateers! Their History and Future

Alexander Tabarrok and Alex Nowrasteh. Fletcher Security Review. Vol. 2. No. 1. January 28, 2015.

Public Filings

Trade Promotion Agencies and U.S. Foreign Policy

By Daniel J. Ikenson. Testimony. May 19, 2015.

The Pilot Program on NAFTA Long-Haul Trucking Provisions

By Daniel Griswold. Testimony. May 4, 2011.

Cato Reviews & Journals

Is the TPP Free Trade?

Policy Report. September/October 2016.

Protectionism by Any Other Name

Pierre Lemieux. Regulation. Fall 2014.


Fall Fables & Fallacies: The Truth about Free Trade

Featuring Daniel J. Ikenson. October 27, 2016. Capitol Hill Briefing.

Policy Perspectives of the Presidential Candidates: Trade

Featuring Daniel J. Ikenson and Caleb O. Brown. July 15, 2016. Sponsor E-Briefing.

Should Free Traders Support the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Featuring Daniel J. Ikenson, Daniel R. Pearson, Simon Lester, & K. William Watson. June 30, 2016. Policy Forum.