Trade Agreements Act

The Importance of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934


Hello Friends, today we will be discussing one of the most important trade acts in the United States’ history, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934. In this article, we will dive into the background, effects, and significance of this act. The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934 (RTAA) was signed into law by President Roosevelt during the Great Depression, with the intent of stimulating economic growth and expanding international trade.


During the early 1930s, the world economy was in a severe depression, with global trade at an all-time low. In the United States, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 raised tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods, causing a devastating effect on international trade. As a result, US exports plummeted, leading to widespread unemployment and economic hardship. In response, President Roosevelt aimed to reverse this trend by signing the RTAA into law in 1934.

What is the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934?

The RTAA was designed to lower tariffs and trade barriers between the United States and other countries through bilateral agreements. Prior to the RTAA, US trade policy was based on high tariffs on all imports, which led to retaliatory actions by other countries, further hindering global trade. The RTAA sought to end this cycle of retaliation by empowering the President to negotiate and sign reciprocal trade agreements with other nations.

Effects of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934

The RTAA had a significant impact on US trade policy, leading to a decrease in tariffs and a subsequent increase in international trade. By negotiating over 300 separate bilateral trade agreements, the RTAA succeeded in lowering tariffs on over 25,000 imported goods, resulting in a significant increase in US exports. The RTAA also established the concept of Most-Favored-Nation status, where the United States would offer the lowest tariff rate negotiated with any nation to all others having MFN status.

Successes of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934

One of the key successes of the RTAA was its impact on the US economy during the Great Depression. By opening up international trade and increasing US exports, the RTAA created new markets for American goods, leading to increased production and employment. In fact, US exports increased by over 40% in just five years after the passage of the RTAA.

Challenges to the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934

Despite its successes, the RTAA faced challenges from both domestic and foreign opposition. Some domestic industries, such as agriculture and textiles, opposed the RTAA due to potential foreign competition. Foreign nations also challenged the RTAA, as they anticipated being forced to lower their tariffs to match US rates. However, the RTAA proved to be an effective tool for opening up international trade and creating new markets for American goods.

Impact on Future Trade Agreements

The RTAA provided the blueprint for future trade agreements, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These agreements continued the trend of lowering tariffs and trade barriers, creating a more interconnected global economy. The success of the RTAA also paved the way for future trade agreements that prioritized open markets and reciprocal trade deals.

The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act Today

Although the RTAA was passed over 85 years ago, its legacy is still felt in modern US trade policy. The principles of the RTAA, such as reciprocal trade agreements and open markets, continue to be guiding principles in US trade agreements today. In fact, many of the US’s current trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), are based on the same principles as the RTAA.


In conclusion, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934 was a game-changer in US trade policy. By establishing the principles of reciprocal trade agreements and open markets, the RTAA opened up new opportunities for American businesses and created new markets for US goods. The RTAA laid the foundation for future trade agreements and continues to influence US trade policy today. We hope this article has provided you with a deep understanding of the importance of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934 and its lasting legacy. Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you soon in another insightful article.


  • “The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act.” History Hub. National Archives, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 01 June 2021.
  • “Trade Agreements Act (TAA).” Winvale Group. n.d. Web. 01 June 2021.
  • “Chapter 34 – 4th quarter.” Felicia’s E-Portfolio. n.d. Web. 01 June 2021.

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