Voluntary Export Restrictions Voluntary export restrictions are a form of trade barrier by which foreign firms agree to limit the quantity of goods exported to a particular country. They came to prominence in the United States in the 1980s, when the U.S. government persuaded foreign exporters of automobiles and steel to agree to limit their exports to the United States. Although such restrictions are called voluntary, they typically are agreed to only after pressure is applied by the country whose industries they protect. The United States, for example, has succeeded in pressuring many other countries to accept quotas limiting their exports of goods ranging from sweaters to steel. A voluntary export restriction works precisely like an ordinary quota. It raises prices for the domestic product and reduces the quantity consumed of the good or service affected by the quota. It can also increase the profits of the firms that agree to the quota because it raises the price they receive for their products. Other Barriers In addition to tariffs and quotas, measures such as safety standards, labeling requirements, pollution controls, and quality restrictions all may have the effect of restricting imports. Many restrictions aimed at protecting consumers in the domestic market create barriers as a purely unintended, and probably desirable, side effect. For example, limitations on insecticide levels in foods are often more stringent in the United States than in other countries. These standards tend to discourage the import of foreign goods, but their primary purpose appears to be to protect consumers from harmful chemicals, not to restrict trade. But other nontariff barriers seem to serve no purpose other than to keep foreign goods out. Tomatoes produced in Mexico, for example, compete with those produced in the United States. But Mexican tomatoes tend to be smaller than U.S. tomatoes. The United States once imposed size restrictions to protect U.S. consumers from small tomatoes. The result was a highly effective trade barrier that protected U.S. producers and raised U.S. tomato prices. Those restrictions were abolished under terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has led to a large increase in U.S. imports of Mexican tomatoes and a reduction in U.S. tomato production. Ramon G. Guajardo and Homero A. Elizondo, North American Tomato Market: A Spatial Equilibrium Perspective, Applied Economics, 35 (3) (February 2003): The high tariffs of the early nineteenth century were typically justified as being necessary to allow U.S. firms to gain a competitive foothold in the world economy. As domestic industries became established, tariff rates fell.
Entry of new foreign firms to earn the profits available in the United States is blocked by the quota.