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Trade sanctions are trade penalties imposed by one or more countries on one or more other countries.

Typically the sanctions take the form of import tariffs (duties), licensing schemes or other administrative hurdles. They tend to arise in the context of an unresolved trade or policy dispute, such as a disagreement about the fairness of some policy affecting international trade (imports or exports). For example, one country may conclude that another is unfairly subsidising exports of one or more products, or unfairly protecting some sector from competition (from imported goods or services). The first country may retaliate by imposing import duties, or some other sanction, on goods or services from the second. Trade sanctions are distinguished from economic sanctions, which are used as a punitive measure in international relations (examples being recent US or multilateral sanctions against Cuba, Iraq, or North Korea).

Politics of trade sanctions

Trade sanctions are frequently retaliatory in nature. For example, in 2002 the United States placed import tariffs on steel in an effort to protect its industry from more efficient foreign producers, such as China and Russia. The WTO ruled that these tariffs were illegal. The European Union threatened retaliatory tariffs on a range of US goods, forcing the US government to remove the steel tariffs in early 2004. Economic sanctions frequently result in trade wars. The World Trade Organisation is the world governing body for trade disputes. Sanctions can be a coercive measure for achiveing particular policy goals (such as United States sanctions against Brazil over patent law in the late 1980s).

Recent historical examples of trade sanctions

Worldwide there have been many examples of such disputes and associated sanctions. For example, American steel companies requested, and were at times granted, protection from steel imports that they claimed enjoyed an unfair advantage due to the economic policy of the steel exporting country. At times it was asserted that the exporting company was dumping steel overseas (in the USA) at below cost. See United States steel tariff 2002 Again, as the Asian economies became more and more effective competitors on the international stage, achieved largely via export-led growth, many countries imposed import tariffs and other measures aimed at protecting domestic industries. The intention was not always permanent protection (of the threatened industry) but sometimes an attempt to give the domestic firms time to adjust to a changed competitive context. The disagreements that occur are not only bi-lateral and can be fundamental to the working of the global economy and e.g. to the alleviation of global poverty. At the

moment (September 2003) World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun have just broken down between the advanced nations and the developing world. Unresolved issues include that of whether the advanced nations are unfairly subsidising their agricultural sectors to the detriment of the developing world (that might otherwise sell more agricultural produce into e.g. the USA and Europe).