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protection,practice of regulating imports and exports with the purpose of shielding domestic industries from foreign competition. To accomplish that end, certain imports may be excluded entirely, import quotas may be established, or bounties paid on certain exports. One method is to impose duties on imports (see tarifftariff,
tax on imported and, more rarely, exported goods. It is also called a customs duty. Tariffs may be distinguished from other taxes in that their predominant purpose is not financial but economic—not to increase a nation's revenue but to protect domestic industries
..... Click the link for more information. ), increasing the price of the imported article, and making it less attractive to the consumer than the cheaper, domestically produced article. In the 20th cent. Britain used a system of protection known first as imperial preference and later as Commonwealth preference, designed to promote close economic relations between Britain and former colonial dependencies. The United States, however, followed the policy of protecting "infant industries" from the beginning of its national history. Since bounties on exports are forbidden by the Constitution, the protective tariff was the chief instrument of such policy. A brief attempt was made in 1913 to lower duties, but after World War I tariff rates were raised to the highest point in U.S. history. Although American industries had grown to a position of great strength, it was still held that they needed protection from the cheaper labor and lower costs of production in many foreign countries.
To promote freer trade during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt received authorization in 1934 to negotiate reciprocal trade agreementsreciprocal trade agreement,
international commercial treaty in which two or more nations grant equally advantageous trade concessions to each other. It usually refers to treaties dealing with tariffs.
..... Click the link for more information. , reducing tariff rates on a far-reaching basis through the use of the most-favored-nation clausemost-favored-nation clause
(MFN), provision in a commercial treaty binding the signatories to extend trading benefits equal to those accorded any third state. The clause ensures equal commercial opportunities, especially concerning import duties and freedom of investment.
..... Click the link for more information. . After World War II, the United States played a leading role in the formation (1948) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and in negotiating the several rounds of multilateral tariff reductions, most recently (1986) the Uruguay round, which led to the formation of the World Trade OrganizationWorld Trade Organization
(WTO), international organization established in 1995 as a result of the final round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations, called the Uruguay Round.
..... Click the link for more information. . Other important steps in the movement toward freer trade and away from protection include the formation of the European Economic CommunityEuropean Economic Community
(EEC), organization established (1958) by a treaty signed in 1957 by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany (now Germany); it was known informally as the Common Market.
..... Click the link for more information. (or Common Market; now part of European UnionEuropean Union
(EU), name given since the ratification (Nov., 1993) of the Treaty of European Union, or Maastricht Treaty, to the European Community (EC), an economic and political confederation of European nations, and other organizations (with the same member nations)
..... Click the link for more information. ) in 1957 and the European Free Trade AssociationEuropean Free Trade Association
(EFTA), customs union and trading bloc; its current members are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. EFTA was established in 1960 by Austria, Denmark, Great Britain, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland.
..... Click the link for more information. in 1959. In 1992, the United States, Canada, and Mexico negotiated the North American Free Trade AgreementNorth American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA), accord establishing a free-trade zone in North America; it was signed in 1992 by Canada, Mexico, and the United States and took effect on Jan. 1, 1994.
..... Click the link for more information. (NAFTA), which created the world's largest trading zone.
Although the United States is no longer a high-tariff nation, it still has a number of restrictive import quotas that provide a definite limit on the quantity of a given commodity that can be imported from another nation. Japan, one of the world's major industrial nations, also has many import quotas. Such quotas, in addition to being more certain methods of protection than tariffs, can also be used to favor certain nations over others.
See W. M. Corden, Protection, Growth and Trade (1985); J. N. Bhagwati, Protectionism (1988).