Agricultural Trade Liberalization in the Uruguay Round: One Step Forward, One Step Back?

68 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by Merlinda Ingco

Merlinda Ingco

World Bank - International Trade Division

Date Written: August 1995


After evaluating the Uruguay Round's impact on agriculture and border protection in the next decade, the author concludes that while there was significant reform of the rules - particularly the conversion of nontariff barriers into tariffs and the reduction and binding of all tariffs - in practice, trade will probably be liberalized less than expected. The objective of the Round was to reverse protectionism and remove trade distortions. This may not be achieved in practice, at least not until further reductions are carried out in future rounds of negotiations. The major exception to this conclusion is in high-income Asian countries, where protection for major commodities will be significantly reduced. The tariffication and binding of all tariffs on agricultural products represents a significant step forward. Liberalization is implicit because countries are prohhibited from arbitrarily raising tariffs to new higher levels. But many of the newly established tariffs are so high in many countries as to effectively prohibit trade. Patterns of liberalization vary considerably by commodity and by country. Generally, the extent of liberalization was diminished by binding tariffs to the base period of 1986-88, when border protection was at a high point. In most OECD countries, this was worsened by "dirty tariffication:" the new base tariffs offered even greater protection than the nontariff barriers they replaced. Even after the commitments to tariff reductions in the Round, the ad valorem measure of the final binding tariffs will remain higher than the average rate of protection in 1982-93. A number of developing countries in East Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East chose to lock in prior liberalization efforts on some products. But for most commodities, there will be little actual liberalization, since most developing countries chose to bind their tariffs at a maximum level. Even when countries reduced already-bound rates, bound tariffs remained significantly higher than current applied rates, giving countries the flexibility to raise tariffs later. The high level of bound tariffs may allow countries to apply variable tariffs below the bound level, thus failing to stabilize tariffs and improve market access. Moreover, the Round did not touch many of the worst distortions in developing countries, such as import subsidies, export taxes, state-trading monopolies, and domestic policies that implicitly tax agriculture.

Suggested Citation

Ingco, Merlinda, Agricultural Trade Liberalization in the Uruguay Round: One Step Forward, One Step Back? (August 1995). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 1500. Available at SSRN:

Merlinda Ingco (Contact Author)

World Bank - International Trade Division ( email )

1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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