Trade policies such as protectionist measures and government support of agricultural sectors affect the level of global trade. Bilateral, multilateral, and regional trade agreements to eliminate trade barriers among member countries have taken on greater significance amidst an evolving international trading environment. The United States is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has membership in trade agreements with a number of countries.

ERS Research on Trade Policy and WTO-related Issues

ERS analyzes data and information on trade policy and WTO topics and conducts economic research on regulations policies of major trading partners to provide U.S. negotiators and other stakeholders with an economic perspective on the complex issues confronting the WTO.

Key topics that have been covered by ERS reports are summarized below.

  • ERS analyzes two potential scenarios for reforming global agricultural trade—removing all tariffs or eliminating trade costs through the Trade Facilitation Agreement—and compares their effects on trade, production, prices, and social welfare (see Reforming Market Access in Agricultural Trade: Tariff Removal and the Trade Facilitation Agreement, April 2021).
  • Compliance with China’s food standards and regulations can be a challenge for exporters aspiring to sell to that country’s growing market. Refusals of imports fluctuate from year to year, peaking in 2007 and 2017 and dropping to their lowest-ever totals in 2018-19 (see China's Refusals of Food Imports, March 2021).
  • ERS surveys the first 20 years of World Trade Organization members’ tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) for agricultural products, providing data for an analysis of how TRQ market access for agricultural products has evolved from 1995 to 2015 and the extent to which TRQs are fulfilling their goal of increasing that access (see Agricultural Market Access Under Tariff-Rate Quotas, January, 2021). 
  • Japan is one of the largest beef importers in the world and an important destination market for the United States. A recent ERS report examines how Japanese importers view U.S. beef vis-à-vis imports from Australia and other countries and how market access reform might affect Japanese beef imports from the United States (see Tariff Reforms and the Competitiveness of U.S. Beef in Japan, January 2016).
  • Export restrictions could increase world prices for food commodities, thereby exacerbating food insecurity and poverty among the world’s poorest people. An ERS report has examined alternative policies to a conventional export tax that are less market distorting and welfare diminishing (see Alternative Policies to Agricultural Export Taxes That Are Less Market Distorting, June 2015).
  • Non-tariff Measures (NTMs) such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade have become among the most commonly cited barriers to agricultural trade. An ERS report found such measures to be significant impediments to agricultural trade in selected commodities between the United States and the European Union (see Estimating the Effects of Selected Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Technical Barriers to Trade on U.S.-EU Agricultural Trade, November 2015).