From Smoot-Hawley to Reciprocal Trade Agreements: Changing the Course of U.S. Trade Policy in the 1930s
49 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2000 Last revised: 5 Oct 2010
Date Written: January 1997
Four years after passing the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff in 1930, Congress enacted the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act (RTAA), which gave the president the authority to undertake tariff-reduction agreements (without Congressional approval) with foreign countries. The resulting trade agreements reduced U.S. tariffs and culminated in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947. Was the Great Depression responsible for bringing about this fundamental shift in U.S. trade policy? This paper analyzes the changes in U.S. trade policy during this period and argues that (i) the Depression as an international phenomenon motivated the unprecedented Congressional delegation of tariff-making powers, (ii) economic changes more the result of World War II than the Depression blunted Republican opposition to the RTAA and ensured its post-war survival.
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