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U.S. Trade Policy: A Research Guide

Elements of the U.S. Trade Policy

The U.S. trade policy and investment system includes the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements which form the "multilateral bedrock of U.S. trade policy"1, its tariff, tariff rate quotas, 14 reciprocal free trade agreements, 5 preferential trade programs, 51 trade and investment framework agreements, 48 bilateral investment treaties, trade remedies, a trade agreement enforcement program, trade and development programs, measures which affect imports (e.g. Customs regulations), measures that affect exports (e.g., export promotion), and sector programs (e.g., subsidies to agriculture).

This section provides sources of information on many of these aspects of the U.S. trade and investment system, and identifies more than 60 other elements of U.S. trade policy that can be researched by using other sources noted in this guide.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

U.S. Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) and Absolute Quotas

The United States maintains tariff-rate quotas on agricultural products in 11 agriculture chapters of the tariff schedule (as well as brooms and ethanol alcohol). In addition, there are tariff rate quotas under 14 free trade agreements and preferential programs that limit imports of dairy, beef and sugar into the U.S. U.S. law is found in 19 U.S. Code § 3601 - Administration of tariff-rate quotas, and federal regulations are found in CFR Titles 17,19 and 22. Information of TRQs are included in the Federal Registry.

WTO members are required to notify the WTO on all TRQs 30 days after the end of the year, and information is available in WTO staff documents. This information is also found in a country's WTO market access schedules. Customs and Border Protection publishes a weekly summary of fill list, identifying how much of a quota has been used. More details on the specific quotas are found in Quota Bulletins.

Absolute quotas are a quantitative limit on imports, while a tariff rate quota combines two policy tools, a tariff and a quota. For example, there is a quota on the amount of sugar imports that enter the U.S. at a low tariff. Over a certain level, sugar may enter with a higher, over-quota tariff in unlimited quantities. The United States rarely uses absolute quotas; as of September 2019 there were no absolute quotas in place.

The United States is party to fourteen free trade agreements (FTAs) that cover twenty countries. There are 12 bilateral agreements and two agreements with a block of countries: USMCA: United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (former NAFTA) and CAFTA-DR: Dominican Republic-Central America – United States Free Trade Agreement covering Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

U.S. Trade Agreement with Australia

This is a sample list of resources for researching a trade agreement, in this case U.S. trade agreement with Australia.

U.S. Government commentaries and links to other resources

Unilateral Preferential Trade Agreements


  1. 2014 Annual Report of the President of the United States on the Trade Agreement Program, page 2, March 2015. Back to text