Understanding Countervailing Duties (CVDs) in Global Trade

What Are Countervailing Duties (CVDs)?

Countervailing Duties (CVDs) are tariffs levied on imported goods to offset subsidies made to producers of these goods in the exporting country. CVDs are meant to level the playing field between domestic producers of a product and foreign producers of the same product who can afford to sell it at a lower price because of the subsidy they receive from their government.

Key Takeaways

  • Countervailing duties or CVDs are tariffs on imported goods that are imposed to offset subsidies given by the exporting country's government.
  • CVDs help offset any negative domestic impacts that producers of the same good might experience due to foreign competition, who in this case, would receive a subsidy to export the same good.
  • The WTO only permits countervailing duties to be charged after the importing nation has conducted an in-depth investigation into the subsidized exports.

How Countervailing Duties (CVDs) Work

CVDs are special measures meant to neutralize the negative effects that subsidies of the production of a good in one country have on that same industry in another country, in which the production of that good is not subsidized.

If left unchecked, such subsidized imports can have a severe effect on the domestic industry, forcing factory closures and causing huge job losses. As export subsidies are considered to be an unfair trade practice, the World Trade Organization (WTO)–which deals with the global rules of trade between nations–has detailed procedures in place to establish the circumstances under which countervailing duties can be imposed by an importing nation.

The WTO’s “Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures,” which is contained in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994, defines when and how an export subsidy can be used and regulates the measures that member nations can take to offset the effect of such subsidies.

These measures include the affected nation using the WTO’s dispute settlement procedure to seek withdrawal of the subsidy, or imposing countervailing duties on subsidized imports that are hurting domestic producers.

Example of Countervailing Duties

Consider the following example of countervailing duties. Assume Country A provides an export subsidy to widget makers in the nation, who export widgets en masse to Country B at $8 per widget. Country B has its widget industry and domestic widgets are available at $10 per widget.

If Country B determines that its domestic widget industry is being hurt by unrestrained imports of subsidized widgets, it may impose a 25% countervailing duty on widgets imported from Country A, so that the resulting cost of the imported widgets is also $10. This eliminates the unfair price advantage that widget makers in Country A have due to the export subsidy from their government.

Special Considerations

The definition of “subsidy” in this regard is quite broad. It includes any financial contribution made by a government or government agency, including a direct transfer of funds (such as grants, loans, and infusion of equity), potential direct transfer of funds (for example, loan guarantees), fiscal incentives such as tax credits, and any form of income or price support.

The WTO only permits countervailing duties to be charged after the importing nation has conducted an in-depth investigation into the subsidized exports. The agreement contains detailed rules for determining whether a product is being subsidized and calculating the amount of such subsidy, criteria for establishing whether these subsidized imports are affecting the domestic industry, and rules for the implementation and duration of countervailing duties, which is typically five years.

Article Sources
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  1. World Trade Organization. "Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures." Accessed Oct. 20, 2021.

  2. World Trade Organization. "Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures ("SCM Agreement")." Accessed Oct. 20, 2021.

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