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


China’s U.S. Debt Portfolio Will Not Be Weaponized for the Trade War

By Daniel J. Ikenson. May 22, 2019.

Trump on Tariffs: Consistent, and Consistently Wrong

By Simon Lester. New York Daily News. May 22, 2019.

The Folly of Protectionist Tariffs

By Michael D. Tanner. National Review (Online). May 15, 2019.

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.


Access to Trade Justice: Fixing NAFTA’s Flawed State-to-State Dispute Settlement Process

Simon Lester, Inu Manak, and Andrej Arpas. World Trade Review. March 16, 2018.

The Rise of Populist Nationalism and the Renegotiation of NAFTA

Simon Lester. Journal of International Economic Law. Vol. 21. No. 1. March 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.

Public Filings

Cato Reviews & Journals

Assessing President Trump’s Trade Priorities

Daniel Griswold. Cato Journal. Winter 2019.

Is NAFTA 2.0 Better than Nothing?

Pierre Lemieux. Regulation. Winter 2018-2019.

Peter Navarro’s Conversion

Pierre Lemieux. Regulation. Fall 2018.


Trade and American Leadership: The Paradoxes of Power and Wealth from Alexander Hamilton to Donald Trump

Featuring Daniel J. Ikenson, James Bacchus, and Craig VanGrasstek. February 28, 2019. Book Forum.

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.


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

By Daniel Griswold. October 12, 2005.

Remarks of Don Boudreaux and Daniel Griswold at Cato University, Fall 2004

By Donald J. Boudreaux and Daniel Griswold. October 30, 2004.

Can Free Trade Promote Peace in the Middle East?

By Daniel Griswold. June 20, 2003.

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.