Title: Nontariff Agricultural Trade Barriers Revisited
Published in: Working Papers Series
Author/s: Jimmye S. Hillman (Contact Laura Bipes* for copies)
Terminological, as well as substantive, problems with other-than-customs-duty trade protection issues have existed for a long time. After World War II, these problems proved troublesome for trade analysts. Baldwin , Denton and O’Cleiracain , and Lloyd  were among the first who helped clarify language and ideas. Unlike many at that time, I chose to stick with “nontariff barriers” as a generic shorthand to describe a world of government measures, other than tariffs or customs taxes, which restrict or distort international commerce between domestic and imported goods and services. Viewed in this simple fashion, nontariff barriers [NTBs] came to mean the totality of instruments, other than customs duties, which restrict international trade. As to substance, the nontariff barrier issue wasn’t new even in the early nineteen fifties. It was getting little attention, however, particularly in agricultural circles. International trade, itself, was a subject which was far down the list of issues important to U.S. policy circles, which were occupied mainly with “parity” prices, supply controls, and product utilization schemes. Most everyone appeared blithely to assume that the United States would continue to be indefinitely a creditor nation and a residual supplier of agricultural products to the world market. About the only works relating to agricultural trade were a 1920s book by Nourse [Nourse, 1924] and Gale Johnson’s work on the trade policy dilemma of U.S. agriculture [Johnson,1950]. As to nontariff protection studies, they were almost nonexistent, and Bidwell’s excellent treatise The Invisible Tariff seems to have gotten lost during World War II. I still find it difficult to comprehend why this work is almost universally absent in modern NTB bibliographies. Hence, one sub-theme of my presentation is that one should not be surprised at the early neglect of the NTB topic by academics and policy makers. Agricultural protection in general was not fashionable research in the United States for a period of 40 to 50 years, beginning in the early 1930s. I have examined the inward-looking U.S. agricultural policy during that era elsewhere in a book that was a very early product of the International Agricultural Trade Research Consortium [IATRC, or Consortium]. [McCalla and Josling, Chapter 7]. The first part of this paper will be devoted to revisiting the evolution of the so-called nontariff trade barrier question, and to make some modest hints and suggestions as to what the Consortium might do toward understanding its significance. Initially, I shall describe how the NTB question… through a series of passive actions on the part of governments, eco-political professionals and others… underwent a metamorphosis from a rather vague conglomerate of lists and anecdotal examples of protection to a more definitive pattern of concerns, such as those embodied in the so-called “technical barriers” terminology; then how the trend was reversed by the use of a broader appellation “environmental barriers”. I shall not attempt to analyze these phenomena, only to describe how we evolved to where we are today in this sector of agricultural protection. Second, I shall present broadly some topical areas in which nontariff problems appear to exist for resolution by the World Trade Organization [WTO] in the future. The presentation will, perforce, ask why nontariff barriers came into play as protective devices in selected areas, their social and economic implications, and the groups of interests in their perpetuation. Third, and finally, some suggestions will be made, and some questions and challenges raised as to what the Consortium can do to encourage its members to be more aggressive in addressing NTB issues.