Tariffs by stealth as countries try to dodge world trade laws

INTERNATIONAL trade is being hampered by a sharp increase in protectionist measures, as governments seek to spite other countries and improve their own domestic industries.

The last three months of 2012 and the first three months of 2013 have been the worst quarters since the financial crisis for anti-trade policies, with 252 measures brought in between October 2012 and March 2013.

These statistics, collected by the Global Trade Alliance (GTA), include a number of traditional protectionist practices, like tariffs. However, a larger proportion is now made up of non-traditional means, like subsidies, bailouts, and restrictions on investment.

Since the World Trade Organisation monitors traditional means of hindering commerce, states are finding more innovative and less obvious ways to make their foreign goods less attractive.

Simon Evenett, coordinator of the GTA, said: “most recent protectionism has been by stealth and is no less serious for that”, adding, “the past 12 months have seen a quiet, wide-ranging assault on the level playing field”.

Despite recent complaints about Chinese action against European wine, China has been hurt by protectionism more than any other country, having been hit nearly 1,000 times since the end of 2008.