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


“America First” Ethos Emboldens Boeing to Battle Bombardier, Benefiting White-Collar Washington

By Daniel J. Ikenson. July 12, 2017.

Trump Would Further Damage U.S. Manufacturing if He Restricts Steel Imports

By Daniel R. Pearson. MarketWatch. June 22, 2017.

The Border-Adjustment Tax Is No Free Lunch

By Alan Reynolds. Investor’s Business Daily. June 16, 2017.

Cato Studies

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.

It’s Time to Negotiate a New Economic Relationship with China

By Simon Lester and Huan Zhu. Free Trade Bulletin No. 70. April 4, 2017.

Into the Abyss: Is a U.S.-China Trade War Inevitable?

By Daniel J. Ikenson. Free Trade Bulletin No. 69. February 6, 2017.


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.

Rethinking the International Investment Law System

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

Public Filings

Cato Reviews & Journals

Cato News Notes

Policy Report. May/June 2017.

Populism and Protectionism

Pierre Lemieux. Regulation. Summer 2017.

Trade as “Social Dumping”

Pierre Lemieux. Regulation. Spring 2017.


The Way Forward for Trade

Featuring Daniel R. Pearson. November 14, 2016. Policy Forum.

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.


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.