Trade Law: An Introduction to Selected International Agreements and U.S. Laws (June 29, 2010) [open pdf - 562KB]
"U.S. trade obligations derive from international trade agreements, including the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the other World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, and additional bilateral and regional trade agreements, as well as domestic laws intended to implement those agreements or effectuate U.S. trade policy goals. This report provides an overview of both sources of U.S. trade obligations, focusing on a select group of agreements, provisions, and statutes that are most commonly implicated by U.S. trade interests and policy. Historically, parties to international trade agreements were obligated to reduce two kinds of trade barriers: tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers. Whereas the former may hinder an imported product's ability to compete in a foreign market by imposing an additional cost on the product's entry into the market, the latter has the potential to bar an import from entering that market altogether by, for example, restricting the number of such imports that can enter the market or imposing prohibitively strict packaging and labeling requirements. Consequently, at their most basic, international trade agreements obligate their parties to convert at least some of their nontariff trade barriers into tariffs, set a ceiling on the tariff rates for particular products, and then progressively reduce those rates over time. In addition, international trade agreements have increasingly broadened their scope to target domestic policies that appear to operate as unfair trade practices and to establish elaborate trade dispute settlement mechanisms. As illustrated in this report, the typical international trade agreement today disciplines its parties' use of tariffs and trade barriers, authorizes its parties to use discriminatory trade measures to remedy certain unfair trade practices, and establishes a dispute settlement body."
CRS Report for Congress, R41306