Strategic trade policy

Strategic trade policy refers to government interventions designed to enhance the competitive position of domestic industries in the global market through subsidies, tariffs, and other trade barriers.
Updated: Jun 6, 2024

3 key takeaways

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  • Strategic trade policy aims to improve the competitive advantage of domestic industries.
  • Tools include subsidies, tariffs, and trade barriers.
  • These policies can lead to trade disputes and impact international trade relations.

What is strategic trade policy?

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Strategic trade policy encompasses various government measures intended to bolster the competitiveness of domestic industries in the global market. This approach often involves the use of subsidies, tariffs, quotas, and other trade barriers to protect and promote domestic industries against foreign competition. The goal is to create favorable conditions for domestic firms to compete internationally, potentially leading to higher economic growth and job creation.

Strategic trade policy is particularly relevant in industries with significant economies of scale or where first-mover advantages are crucial. By supporting domestic firms, governments aim to capture a larger share of global markets and improve the country’s overall economic standing.

Examples of strategic trade policy

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Several historical and contemporary examples illustrate the application of strategic trade policy:

  • East Asian Tigers: Countries like South Korea and Taiwan used strategic trade policies, including subsidies and trade barriers, to develop their manufacturing sectors and achieve rapid economic growth.
  • European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): The EU provides subsidies and imposes tariffs to protect its agricultural sector, ensuring food security and stable incomes for farmers.
  • U.S. semiconductor industry: The U.S. government has provided support to the semiconductor industry through subsidies and research funding to maintain its global competitive edge.

Objectives of strategic trade policy

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The primary objectives of strategic trade policy include:

  • Enhancing competitiveness: Supporting domestic industries to become more competitive in the global market.
  • Economic growth: Stimulating economic growth by promoting exports and protecting key industries.
  • Job creation: Creating and maintaining jobs in strategic industries.
  • National security: Protecting industries deemed crucial for national security and economic stability.

Tools of strategic trade policy

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Governments use a variety of tools to implement strategic trade policy, each with specific purposes and impacts.

  • Subsidies: Financial assistance provided to domestic industries to lower their production costs and enhance their competitiveness. These can take the form of direct grants, tax breaks, or low-interest loans.
  • Tariffs: Taxes imposed on imported goods to make them more expensive and less competitive compared to domestic products.
  • Quotas: Limits on the quantity of a specific good that can be imported, protecting domestic industries from excessive foreign competition.
  • Export incentives: Measures such as tax incentives or grants to encourage domestic firms to export their products and services.

Benefits and risks of strategic trade policy

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Strategic trade policy can offer several benefits but also comes with potential risks and drawbacks.


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  • Industry support: Provides critical support to emerging or struggling industries, helping them grow and compete internationally.
  • Economic development: Promotes economic development by boosting exports and creating jobs.
  • Market share: Helps domestic firms capture a larger share of global markets, leading to increased revenues and economic influence.


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  • Trade disputes: Can lead to trade disputes and retaliatory measures from other countries, potentially escalating into trade wars.
  • Inefficiency: May lead to inefficiencies by protecting industries that are not competitive or viable in the long term.
  • Resource allocation: Diverts resources from other areas of the economy, potentially leading to imbalances and reduced overall economic efficiency.

Impact on international trade relations

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Strategic trade policy can significantly impact international trade relations, leading to both positive and negative outcomes.

Positive impacts include fostering competitive industries that contribute to global economic growth and innovation. However, negative impacts can arise from increased protectionism, leading to trade disputes and retaliatory measures. These disputes can disrupt global trade flows and harm international relations.

Strategic trade policy is a crucial tool for governments aiming to enhance the competitiveness of their domestic industries. While it offers significant benefits, such as economic growth and job creation, it also poses risks, including trade disputes and potential inefficiencies. Understanding the tools, objectives, and impacts of strategic trade policy is essential for navigating the complexities of global trade.

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