Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: The Danger of Imposing 'Reciprocal' Tariff Rates

22 Pages Posted: 3 May 2019

See all articles by Daniel T. Griswold

Daniel T. Griswold

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Date Written: January 24, 2019


Proposals to match higher foreign tariffs with higher, “reciprocal” US tariffs would be an economic and administrative nightmare. This policy would violate the long-standing US commitment to apply tariffs on a nondiscriminatory “unconditional most-favored nation” (MFN) basis, a core principle of the international trading system. Applying reciprocal rates would exponentially complicate the US tariff code, lead to higher duties on a range of imports important to US consumers and producers, and invite retaliation from major trading partners. Specifically, if applied to the United States’ top 10 MFN trading partners, reciprocal tariffs would result in a nearly 10-fold increase in the number of duty lines in the US tariff code. The average US duty on imports from those nations would more than double, from 2.1 to 5.4 percent. Imposing reciprocal duties would ultimately threaten to unravel a postwar global trading system that has reduced tariffs worldwide while protecting US exporters from discrimination.

Keywords: exports, imports, tariffs, reciprocal, free trade, international trade, trade, trading partners, World Trade Organization, free-trade agreements

JEL Classification: F13, F14, F53, F55, N72

Suggested Citation

Griswold, Daniel T., Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: The Danger of Imposing 'Reciprocal' Tariff Rates (January 24, 2019). Mercatus Research Paper , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3381921 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3381921

Daniel T. Griswold (Contact Author)

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

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Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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