Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance


Date of this Version


Document Type



Yeutter Institute International Trade Policy Review, August 22, 2022



© Matthew Schaefer 2022


When U.S. trade negotiators and trade litigators seek to increase market access for U.S. goods and services abroad, they look in their toolbox to see what might be the best tool. The more well-stocked the toolbox, the more possibilities for increasing foreign market access. Today, when U.S. trade negotiators look in their toolbox, they see several traditional tools missing, specifically legally-binding, comprehensive (including tariff-cutting) regional and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) and large package deals within the World Trade Organization (WTO). Their trade litigator colleagues face a similar circumstance of missing traditional tools, specifically the loss of binding two-level dispute settlement within the WTO. Domestic politics and geopolitical developments have pulled some tools from the toolbox. Domestically, more and more members of Congress and presidential candidates voice skepticism over the benefits of international trade – and this in spite of much more alignment on how to address labor and environmental concerns within trade agreements. Internationally, increased tensions between the U.S. and the West, on the one hand, and China and Russia on the other, as well as nationalistic turns in other countries, have left U.S. trade negotiators and litigators with fewer traditional tools to pursue market access.

Ironically, the geopolitical developments, and in particular the trending U.S. response to those geopolitical developments, may hold the key to overcoming domestic political limitations and ultimately place traditional tools back in the toolbox.