Antidumping: The Third Rail of Trade Policy
N. Gregory Mankiw is Professor of Economics at Harvard University and was Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers from May 2003 to February 2005. Phillip L. Swagel is Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and was Chief of Staff of the Council of Economic Advisers from July 2002 to February 2005.See more by N. Gregory MankiwSee more by Phillip L. Swagel
It did not take long for the newest class of U.S. senators to pledge its allegiance to one of the few trade policies that politicians of both parties overwhelmingly support. In February, seven of nine newly elected senators publicly endorsed the Byrd Amendment, a provision that encourages American companies to file antidumping lawsuits by awarding the revenues collected from the resulting tariffs to the litigating companies. The ostensible purpose of antidumping law is to help ensure competition by punishing foreign firms that sell their products at "unfair" prices in U.S. markets. In practice, however, antidumping has strayed far from this purpose, becoming little more than an excuse for special interests to shield themselves from competition at the expense of both American consumers and other American companies.
Antidumping is the "third rail" of U.S. trade politics, with few politicians of either party willing to point out its broadly negative impact. Antidumping statutes are extremely complex, and few voters understand how they work and what effect they have. Advocates of antidumping measures claim that they guarantee that international trade is competitive and fair. And who, they ask, could be against fairness? But such rhetoric bears little relation to economic reality. Rather than promote fairness and competition, the American producers who petition for antidumping tariffs -- a powerful and often unrecognized lobby -- use them to thwart foreign competition. In essence, "antidumping" means little more than "antibargain." If a foreign firm sells its product in the U.S. market at too attractive a price, domestic firms can threaten it with an antidumping suit that will lead to hefty tariffs and higher prices.