Trade Policy Indicator


This indicator measures a country’s openness to international trade based on average tariff rates and non-tariff barriers to trade. Countries are rated on the following factors:

  • Trade-weighted average tariff rate;
  • Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) including, but not limited to: import licenses; trade quotas; production subsidies; anti-dumping, countervailing, and safeguard measures; government procurement procedures; local content requirements; excessive marking and labeling requirements; export assistance; export taxes and tax concessions; and corruption in the customs service.

Relationship to Growth & Poverty Reduction

Trade openness can help to accelerate long run economic growth by allowing for greater economic specialization, encouraging investment and increasing productivity. 1 Greater international competition can also force domestic firms to be more efficient and reduce rent seeking and corrupt activities. 2 One study estimates that “open” economies on average register 2.2% higher economic growth than “closed” economies. 3 Although the relationship between trade openness and poverty reduction is complex, research suggests trade liberalization can improve the livelihoods and real incomes of the poor through the availability of lower-cost import items, increases in the relative wages of laborers, net increases in tariff revenues as a result of lower rates and higher volume, and insulation of the economy from negative exogenous shocks. 4


This indicator relies on the Heritage Foundation’s Trade Freedom score which is a component of their annual Index of Economic Freedom. The indicator scale ranges from 0 to 100, where 0 represents the highest level of protectionism and 100 represents the lowest level of protectionism. The equation used to convert tariff rates and non-tariff barriers into this 0-100 percent scale is presented below:

Trade Policyi = (Tariffmax − Tariffi) ÷ (Tariffmax − Tariffmin) − NTBi

Trade Policyi represents the trade freedom in country i, Tariffmax and Tariffmin represent the upper and lower bounds (50 and zero percent respectively), and Tariffi represents the weighted average tariff rate in country i. The result is multiplied by 100 to convert it to a percentage. If applicable to country i, an NTB penalty of 5, 10, 15, or 20 percentage points is then subtracted from the base score, depending on the pervasiveness of NTBs.

In general, the Heritage Foundation uses the weighted average tariff rate (weighted by imports from the country’s trading partners) as the tariff score. In the absence of weighted average applied tariff rate data, a country’s average applied tariff rate is used. In the absence of average applied tariff rate data, the weighted average or the simple average of most favored nation tariff rates are used. In the very few cases where data on duties and customs revenues are not available, the authors rely on measures of international trade taxes. Data on tariffs and NTBs are obtained from the following sources in order of descending priority: the World Bank’s World Development Indicators and Data on Trade and Import Barriers: Trends in Average Tariff Rates for Developing and Industrial Countries; the World Trade Organization’s Trade Policy Reviews; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, the World Bank’s Doing Business report, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Country Commercial Guide, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Country Reports, Country Profiles, and Country Commerce data, and “official government publications of each country.”


  • 1. Sachs, Jeffrey, and Andrew Warner. 1995. Economic Reform and the Process of Global Integration. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 1: 1-118. Dollar, David. 1992. Outward-Oriented Developing Economies Really Do Grow More Rapidly: Evidence from 95 LDCs, 1976-85. Economic Development and Cultural Change 523-544. Frankel, Jeffrey, and David Romer. 1999. Does Trade Cause Growth? American Economic Review 89(3): 379-399. Hall, R. and C. Jones. 1999. Why Do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output Per Worker Than Others? Quarterly Journal of Economics 114 (1): 83-116, 1999. Wacziarg, Romain. 1998. Measuring the Dynamic Gains from Trade. World Bank Working Paper no. 2001. Washington D.C.: World Bank. Wacziarg, R. T. and Karen Horn Welch. 2003. Trade Liberalization and Growth: New Evidence. NBER Working Paper 10152. Frankel, J.A. and Eduardo A. Cavallo. 2004. Does Openness to Trade Make Countries More Vulnerable to Sudden Stops, Or Less? Using Gravity to Establish Causality. NBER Working Paper 10957. Paul M. Romer. 1994. New Goods, Old Theory, and the Welfare Costs of Trade Restrictions. NBER Working Paper. Jonnson, G. and Arvind Subramanian. 1999. Dynamic Gains from Trade: Evidence from South Africa. International Monetary Fund Working Paper WP/00/45. Dollar, David and Aart Kraay. 2004. Trade, Growth, and Poverty. Economic Journal 114(493): 22-49. Arvind Panagariya, 2004. Miracles and Debacles: In Defense of Trade Openness. The World Economy 27(8): 1149-1171. Alcala, Francisco, and Antonio Ciccone. 2004. Trade and Productivity. Quarterly Journal of Economics 119(2): 613-646. Lee, H.Y., L.A. Ricci, and R. Rigobon. 2004. Once Again, is Openness Good for Growth? Journal of Development Economics 75(2): 451–72. Dollar, David and Aart Kraay. 2002. Institutions, Trade, and Growth. Journal of Monetary Economics 50:133-162. Sachs, Jeffrey D. and Warner, Andrew M. 1997. Sources of slow growth in African economies. Journal of African Economies 6(3): 335-76. Salinas, Gonzalo, and Ataman Aksoy. 2006. Growth before and after trade liberalization. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4062. Washington D.C.: World Bank. Doppelhofer, G., R. Miller and X. Sala-i-Martin. 2004. Determinants of Long-Term Growth: A Bayesian Averaging of Classical Estimates Approach. American Economic Review 94(4): 813-835.
  • 2. Bottasso, Anna, and Alessandro Sembenelli. 2001. Market Power, Productivity and the EU Single Market Program: Evidence from a Panel of Italian Firms. European Economic Review 45(1): 167-186. Levinsohn, James A. 1993. Testing the Imports-as-Market-Discipline Hypothesis. Journal of International Economics 35(1-2): 1-22. Fisman, Ades, Alberto, and Rafael Di Tella. 1997. National Champions and Corruption: Some Unpleasant Interventionist Arithmetic. The Economic Journal 107: 1023-1042. Ades, Alberto, and Rafael Di Tella, 1999. Rent, Competition, and Corruption. American Economic Review 89(4): 982–93. Treisman, D. 2000. The Causes of Corruption: A Cross-National Study. Journal of Public Economics 76: 399-457. Gerring, J. and S. Thacker. 2005. Do Neoliberal Policies Deter Political Corruption? International Organization 59(1): 233–254. Sandholtz, Wayne and William Koetlze. 2000. Accounting for Corruption: Economic Structure, Democracy, and Trade. International Studies Quarterly 44 (1): 31-50. World Bank. 2006. Doing Business 2007: How to Reform. Washington D.C.: World Bank.
  • 3. Sachs, Jeffrey, and Andrew Warner. 1995. Economic Reform and the Process of Global Integration. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 1: 1-118.
  • 4. Bannister, Geoffery J. and Kamau Thugge. May 2001. International Trade and Poverty Alleviation. IMF working paper WP/01/54. Christiaensen, L., L. Demery, and S. Paternostro. 2003. Macro and Micro Perspectives of Growth and Poverty in Africa. The World Bank Economic Review 17: 317-334. Berg, A. and Anne Krueger. 2003. Trade, Growth and Poverty: A Selective Survey. International Monetary Fund Working Paper WP/03/30. Kraay, Aart, and David Dollar. 2004. Trade, Growth, and Poverty. The Economic Journal 114 (493): F22-F49. Winters, A., N. McCulloch, and A. McKay .2004. Trade Liberalization and Poverty: The Evidence So Far. Journal of Economic Literature XLII: 72-115.