Studies in United States Commercial Policy

By William B. Kelly | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Legislative Basis of United States commercial policy

The legislative basis of United States commercial policy has been the Trade Agreements Act of June 12, 1934. This Act authorized the President to lower duties in trade agreements with foreign countries. It thereby gave a new direction to United States commercial policy, which had considered the tariff as virtually "untouchable" and not subject to negotiation with foreign countries. This direction has been maintained, but with some uncertainty and considerable wavering. This chapter is concerned with (1) considerations underlying the original Act; (2) administrative decisions following its enactment; (3) significant changes in the law; and (4) the 1962 trade legislation.


1. CONSIDERATIONS UNDERLYING THE TRADE AGREEMENTS ACT OF 1934

The Administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which succeeded that of Herbert Hoover on March 4, 1933, was pledged to the reduction of the United States tariff. In the 1932 Presidential campaign, the Democratic platform had condemned the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act and had advocated a policy of freer international trade. However, as is frequently the case with party platforms, it had dealt in generalities, and there was no clear outline as to how the policy was to be implemented. Several alternatives presented themselves as to how much and by what means the tariff should be reduced.1


NEGOTIATED VS. UNILATERAL TARIFF REDUCTION

There were two means of lowering the United States tariff--by negotiations with other countries for reciprocal reductions or by unilateral action. Generally, sentiment favored reciprocal tariff reductions, though there were important objections to this policy. There was the possibility

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1
Leading Democrats were not clear or certain as to what their trade policy should be. Some favored tariff reduction by reciprocal trade treaties. Others were strongly for high tariffs and protection for any and all United States industries. Roosevelt was not well versed in tariff Matters, and he straddled the issue, at times calling for protectionism and the cost-equalization formula and at other times advocating the lowering of tariff barriers in order to increase trade. See, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Looking Forward ( New York: The John Day Company, Inc., 1933), pp. 177-90.

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