Friday, 18 December 2020

Barriers to world trade: tariffs, quotas and subsidies

The three forms of trade barriers

There are 3 forms of barriers to trade:

  • tariffs,
  • quotas, and 
  • subsidies.

Tariffs are a form of tax.  Taxes of any form end up being paid for by the end consumer.

By imposing a quota, a country simply limits the quantity of foreign products that can be imported.  

Both quotas and tariffs raise the price of foreign-made goods.

Governments can also use taxpayers' money to provide a subsidy to local producers, making the price of local goods artificially lower than the price of equivalent imported goods.

Why does a country impose trade barriers unilaterally?

Most trade barriers are imposed unilaterally by one country acting on its own to limit imports from abroad.  

These barriers are usually designed to "temporarily" protect local producers from foreign competition, and in theory allow them to improve their productivity.  

The problem is that local producers, once given the comfort of a protected market, rarely make the sacrifices necessary to improve their products or lower their prices.

Competing in the International Markets

Historically, developing countries have been some of the strongest proponents of reducing trade barriers, primarily because their only hope for sustainable growth is to have access to international markets.

Those that have insisted on putting up trade barriers, such as Brazil and India, usually remain in a low-productivity trap that ensures their goods are not competitive on the international markets, and they consistently run up large trade deficits.

Countries with low trade barriers, such as Switzerland and Singapore, not only consistently run trade surpluses - even with strong local currencies - they also provide their citizens with the benefit of free access to low-cost products from around the globe.

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