A contry`s commercial policies are those designed to influence its trade relations with the rest of the world. Over many centuries, until David Ricardo published his theory of comparative advantage in 1817, mercantilist views shaped the trade policies of most nations. The mercantilists believed that the economic power if the state was enhanced by the accumulation of precious metals in the national treasuries. National policies, therefore, were directed toward achieving as large a trade surplus as possible by encouraging exports and restraining imports. The surplus of exports over imports was to be settled by payments in gold or other precious metals. Clearly, extensive government controls over trade and exchange were requited to achieve the mercantilist goals.
As the theory of comparative advantage gained acceptance, mercantilism steadily gave way to a more liberal conception of international trade and economic relations. By the end of the 19th century, trade liberalization had become the dominant philosophy; and nations were imposing relatively few restrictions on trade. This trend toward liberalization was interrupted in the 1930s, however, when nations responded to the Great Depression by reverting to severe protectionist policies.
In the United States, the height of protection was reached in 1930 with the passage of the Hawley-Smoot tariff. Other nations retaliated with new higher tariffs. Beggar-thy-neighbor policies spread everywhere, and rival economic blocs emerged. Between 1929 and1933, world trade fell by almost two thirds. In fact, the signing of the Hawley-Smoot tariff has been characterized as the “most disastrous mistake any American President has ever made in international relations” because it helped convert what would have been otherwise a normal economic downturn into a major would depression, which in turn sowed the seeds of World War II by undermining the position of political moderates in Japan and Germany.
The return to the trade liberalization path was led by the United States with passage of the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act in 1934. Under this initiative, trade restrictions were significantly reduced through bilateral negotiations and agreements. But the liberalization move was again interrupted by World War II. It was resumed after the war, with the Untied States once more providing leadership. The remarkable features of the post-World War II period was the introduction of the multilateral negotiation principle and the creation of an international trade framework.
Until the postwar period, each nation fashioned its own trade policies unilaterally or through bilateral negotiations. Sincere World War II, international cooperation in the field of trade has become the general rules, and permanent international and regional organizations have been established for sponsoring multilateral negotiations and for overseeing the implementation of trade agreements.
The international trade framework that has evolved consists of series of trading agreements under various international organizations. These trading arrangements can be grouped into the following broad categories:
1. Global arrangements directed toward multilateral trade expansion on a nondiscriminatory basis.
2. Global arrangements directed toward international income redistribution through restructuring the “International Economic Order.”
3. Regional arrangements that focus on the economic relations of a particular geographic or political area.
4. Commodity-product arrangements that focus on the international terms of trade of a specific product or commodity.
5. Bilateral trading arrangements that normally do no involve international agencies.
Trade Controls (贸易管制)
A tariff is the most common form of trade restriction. A tariff is a tax or duty levied on a commodity when it crosses the boundary of a customs area. A customs area usually coincides with national political boundaries, although sometimes it includes colonies or territories of the country.
Tariffs may be levied on commodities leaving an area (export duties) or on merchandise entering an area (import duties). Import duties are more common than export duties because most nations are anxious to expand exports and increase their foreign exchange earnings. Import duties may be either specific, ad valorem, or a combination of the two-compound duties. Specific duties are levied on the basis of some physical unit such as dollars per bushel, per kilo, or per meter. Ad valorem duties are calculated as a percent of the value of the goods. The term drawback refers to duties paid on imported goods that are refunded if the imported components are reexported.
A country’s schedule is a listing of all its import duties. The schedule may have one or more columns. In a single-column schedule, the tariff is the same for a specific good regardless of the country of origin. A multicolumn schedule discriminates among exporting countries, with lower rates applying to countries with which tariff treaties have been negotiated. The advantage of the multicolumn tariff is its flexibility for tariff bargaining.
Tariffs have advantage that they can be selectively levied in terms of products and with differential rates. Thus nation may achieve rather precise objectives with tariffs while at the same time increasing government revenues. The negative aspect of tariffs is that they increase the cost of imports to the customer. Also, they are difficult to reduce or eliminate because of political pressures from domestic groups benefited by the tariff. Such political pressures can limit a country’s flexibility in bargaining with other nations, particularly when tariffs are established by law and a change of law is necessary to change a tariff.
An important feature of tariff agreements is the most favored nation (MFN) principle. A nation entering into a tariff treaty that includes the MFN principle is required to extend to all signatories any tariff concessions granted to any participating country. The purpose of such a treaty provision is to simplify tariff bargaining and increase the likelihood or tariff reductions. All members of GATT, are entitled to MFN treatment.
Nontariff Barriers (非关税壁垒)
Nontariff barriers (NTBs) are less visible than tariffs, but they are extremely effective restraints on trade. The principle categories of NTBs are as follows:
1. Government participation in trade: Discrimination in government procurement, state trading, subsidies, countervailing duties,etc.
2. Customs and entry procedures: Regulations covering valuation methods, classification, documentation, health, and safety.
3. Standards: Standards for products, packaging, labeling, marking, etc.
4. Specific limitations: Quotas, import restraints, licensing, foreign exchange controls, etc.
5. Import charges: prior import deposits, credit restrictions for imports, special duties, variable levies, and so on.
Quotas or quantitative restrictions are the most common form of nontariff barrier. A quota limits the imports (or exports) of a specific commodity during a given time period. The limits may be in physical or value terms. Quotas may be on a country basis or global, without reference to countries of origin. They may be imposed unilaterally, as in the case of sugar imports in the United States. They can also be negotiated on a so-called voluntary basis, as in the case of Japanese automobile imports into the United States during the 1980s. Obviously, exporting countries do not readily agree to limit their sales. Thus, the “voluntary” label usually means that the importing country threatened to impose even worse restrictions if voluntary cooperation was not forthcoming.
Quotas are more certain and precise as trade restraints than tariffs. An import duty that is not prohibitive will reduce imports, but it does not impose an absolute limit on imported goods. A quota system limits with certainty the extent of foreign competition in the domestic market. Quotas also provide greater flexibility in bargaining and administration. The greatest disadvantage of quotas is that they insulate domestic producers from pressures to become more competitive with foreign producers.
In the importing country, quotas usually require a licensing system and an agency to distribute the quota shares to domestic importers. Where the total quota is small relative to the total domestic market, domestic prices are likely to be higher than the price of imports. Quota recipients, therefore, will gain windfall profits. Government could capture the windfall profits by auctioning off the licenses to the higher bidder. The more general practice, however, is for the profits to go to private parties. Thus unequities and corruption may occur in the allocation of quotas.
If the quota is allocated within the exporting country, rather than the importing country, a similar system is required for allocating the export quota to individual exporting firms. Such allocations are frequently based on each firm’s foreign market share before the quota limits to into effect. If a firm anticipates the future imposition of quotas, its strategy will be to gain as much market share as possible regardless of profitability. After the exporter is granted a sizable share of the quota, importers from the foreign country become dependent on these specific exporters as source of supply. The exporting firm has then gain sufficient bargaining power to raise prices and more than compensate for lost profits. In the case of some exporting countries, quota holders may earn their greatest profits by selling or renting their quotas to other local firms rather than by using the quotas for exports.
Many NTBs other than those specific mentioned are used to restrict trade, and ingenious new barriers are constantly being developed. Some are legitimate regulatory functions, such as antipollution regulations that require automobiles to meet certain exhaust emission standards. Others may ostensibly be introduced for reasons of health, safety, or national security but are actually intended to restrict trade.
Export Restrictions (出口限制)
While restrictions on imports have traditionally been the main type of trade controls, many nations also have variety of restrictions on exports. Export controls may be in the form of bans or embargoes, quantities restrictions or quotas, licensing, export taxes, minimum export prices, and the reservation of exports to designated trading entities. Malaysia has a ban on the export of timber logs, presumably to encourage further processing within the country. The United States has an embargo on trade with Cuba, Libya, and Nicaragua. The United States also imposed an embargo on grain sales to the former Soviet Union after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Quotas and quantitative restrictions are used to implement international commodity and producer agreements. Export licensing is used by the United States to restrict exports to the Soviet Bloc nations of advanced-technology products, technological and scientific information, and manufacturing skills that are considered detrimental to the national security of the United States.
Minimum export prices are enforced by Brazil on coffee by Brazil on coffee exports; by Japan on exports of videotape recorders to the European Community; and by India on exports of sheep meat, goat meat, and buffalo meat.
Export Promotion (出口鼓励)
Nations adopt programs for promoting exports as well as restricting imports. The less developed countries in particular feel a great need to earn foreign exchange through expanding exports. An the United States itself, with persistent balanced-of-trade deficits since 1970, had established programs for export promotion.
Governmental action to promote exports may even include assuming responsibility for normal business functions, such as sponsoring market research on foreign sales opportunities, arranging trade fairs, and establishing trade promotion offices in foreign countries. At the most traditional level, governments offer tax incentives such as exemption from certain domestic taxes if goods are exported, direct bonus payments or subsidies through administration of exchange controls, special credit for exporters, and insurance programs under which the government assumes varying degrees of political and commercial risk.