Scapegoating trade for problems real and imagined is nothing new. Blaming the Japanese, Mexicans, Chinese, and other foreigners for domestic woes ingratiates politicians to excitable elements of the electorate and helps them direct voter anger away from their own records. It has become a kind of quadrennial tradition ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) debate took center stage in the 1992 election.

Whereas trade economics focuses on the benefits of trade, emphasizing the net gains from specialization and trade, trade politics is more about the impediments to full liberalization and the processes through which gradual liberalization is made possible.

On this page you will find Cato’s analyses of the political obstacles to trade and the political processes through which liberalization is made possible.

More on Trade Politics


Leveling the Playing Field with China

By Simon Lester and Huan Zhu. The Ripon Society. October 30, 2018.

With His China Trade War, Trump Aims to Alter the Course of History

By Daniel J. Ikenson. China-US Focus. October 18, 2018.

Alaska Lawmakers Must Get Serious About Jones Act Repeal

By Colin Grabow. The Hill (Online). October 10, 2018.

Cato Studies

The “Protectionist Moment” That Wasn’t: American Views on Trade and Globalization

By Scott Lincicome. Free Trade Bulletin No. 72. November 2, 2018.

India’s New Protectionism Threatens Gains from Economic Reform

By Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar. Policy Analysis No. 851. October 18, 2018.

The Jones Act: A Burden America Can No Longer Bear

By Colin Grabow, Inu Manak, and Daniel J. Ikenson. Policy Analysis No. 845. June 28, 2018.


The Jones Act in Perspective: A Survey of Costs and Effects of the 1920 Merchant Marine Act

Russ Kashian, Jeff Pagel, and Ike Brannon. Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. April 2017.

Bad Trade Talk

Simon Lester. The International Economy. Fall 2016.

Does Safeguards Need Saving? Lessons from the Ukraine - Passenger Cars Dispute

Arevik Gnutzmann-Mkrtchyan and Simon Lester. EUI Working Papers. October 192016.

Public Filings

Cato Reviews & Journals

Peter Navarro’s Conversion

Pierre Lemieux. Regulation. Fall 2018.

Cato Makes Free Trade Go Viral

Policy Report. May/June 2018.

How’s Your Trade War Going?

Pierre Lemieux. Regulation. Summer 2018.


Trump’s Attack on the Trade Regime: A Search for Solutions

Featuring Daniel J. Ikenson, Inu Manak, Simon Lester, & James Bacchus. October 5, 2018. Conference.

#CatoConnects: NAFTA and the Trump Tariffs

Featuring Simon Lester, Inu Manak, and Caleb O. Brown. March 14, 2018. Cato Connects.

Clashing over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy

Featuring Douglas Irwin, Claude E. Barfield, and Daniel J. Ikenson. January 24, 2018. Book Forum.


Four Decades of Failure: The U.S. Embargo against Cuba

By Daniel Griswold. October 12, 2005.

Downsizing the Federal Government

Ending the Import-Export Bank

By Sallie James. October 2012.

International Trade Administration

By Tad DeHaven and Chris Edwards. February 2009.