U.S. trade barriers hurt U.S. citizens, as consumers, taxpayers, workers, producers, and investors. Americans would be better off if we simply undertook our own reforms – on tariffs, regulations, and other artificial impediments to commerce – without regard for what other governments do.

Although tariffs and other trade barriers have been reduced considerably since the end of the Second World War, U.S. policy continues to accommodate egregious amounts of protectionism: we have “Buy American” rules that restrict most government procurement spending to U.S. suppliers, ensuring that taxpayers get the smallest bang for their buck; heavily protected service industries, such as commercial air service and shipping, which drive up transportation costs and raises the prices of nearly everything Americans consume; apparently interminable farm subsidies; quotas and high tariffs on imported sugar; high tariffs on basic consumer products, such as clothing and footwear; energy export restrictions; the market-distorting cronyism of the Export-Import bank; antidumping duties that strangle downstream industries and tax consumers; regulatory protectionism masquerading as public health and safety precautions; protectionist rules of origin and local content requirements that limit trade’s benefits; and restrictions on foreign investment.

On this page you will find Cato’s analyses and policy prescriptions for all manners of trade and investment protectionism.

More on Trade Policy Prescriptions


Is Romney a Free Trader? or Trump’s Rubber Stamp?

By Colin Grabow. Salt Lake Tribune. June 18, 2018.

Trump May Well Have a Point over Trade but It Doesn’t Mean He’s Right

By Ryan Bourne. UK Telegraph. June 15, 2018.

President Trump’s Confused Approach to Trade Is One Giant Contradiction

By Ryan Bourne. MarketWatch. June 12, 2018.

Cato Studies

Responsible Stakeholders: Why the United States Should Welcome China’s Economic Leadership

By Colin Grabow. Policy Analysis No. 821. October 3, 2017.

Doomed to Repeat It: The Long History of America’s Protectionist Failures

By Scott Lincicome. Policy Analysis No. 819. August 22, 2017.

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.


Safeguarding Policy Space in Investment Agreements

Simon Lester and Bryan Mercurio. IIEL Issue Brief. December 2017.

Rethinking the International Investment Law System

Simon Lester. Journal of World Trade. Vol. 49. No. 2. 2015.

A Call for Integration

Simon Lester. The International Economy. November 2014.

Cato Reviews & Journals

Brain-Focused Economics: More Than Just Comparative Advantage

Richard B. McKenzie. Regulation. Summer 2018.

Really Opening Up the American Skies

Kenneth J. Button. Regulation. Spring 2014.


Trump, Trade, and the Asia Pacific

Featuring Colin Grabow, Daniel J. Ikenson, and Peter Russo. November 29, 2017. Capitol Hill Briefing.

Dealing with China’s Steel Overcapacity

Featuring Daniel R. Pearson and Daniel J. Ikenson. October 5, 2016. Policy Forum.

The Truth about Job Losses and Free Trade

Featuring . April 2, 2004. Capitol Hill Briefing.