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


Are Free Trade’s Best Days Behind Us?

By Simon Lester. Reason. July 15, 2019.

The Greatest Show on Earth: Trump’s Trade Talks with China

By Doug Bandow. National Interest (Online). July 1, 2019.

Trump on Tariffs: Clueless

By Steve H. Hanke. June 22, 2019.

Cato Studies

Closing Pandora’s Box: The Growing Abuse of the National Security Rationale for Restricting Trade

By Simon Lester and Huan Zhu. Policy Analysis No. 874. June 25, 2019.

Trump’s First Trade Deal: The Slightly Revised Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement

By Simon Lester, Inu Manak, and Kyounghwa Kim. Free Trade Bulletin No. 73. June 13, 2019.

Macroeconomic Consequences of Tariffs

By Davide Furceri, Swarnali A. Hannan, Jonathan D. Ostry, & Andrew K. Rose. Research Briefs in Economic Policy No. 166. June 5, 2019.


A Proposal for “Rebalancing” to Deal with “National Security” Trade Restrictions

Simon Lester and Huan Zhu. Fordham International Law Journal. Vol. 5. No. 42. 2019.

The Canada-China FTA in Peril Part 2: Arrested Progress

Simon Lester, Inu Manak, and Huan Zhu. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. March 12, 2019.

The Canada-China FTA in Peril Part 1: The USMCA “Non-Market Country” Provision

Simon Lester, Inu Manak, and Huan Zhu. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. February 28, 2019.

Public Filings

Enforcement in the New NAFTA

By Simon Lester and Inu Manak. Public Comments. June 4, 2019.

Perspectives on the Export-Import Bank of the United States

By Daniel J. Ikenson. Testimony. June 2, 2015.

Hearing on “Overseas Sweatshop Abuses, Their Impact on U.S. Workers, and the Need for Anti-Sweatshop Legislation”

By Daniel Griswold. Testimony. February 14, 2007.

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.