Crawfish Tails: A Curious Tale of Foreign Trade Policy Making


  • Authors' note: The authors thank Louisiana State University for the support in the form of an Economic Development Assistantship. The comments and support of Mark Shirley and Greg Lutz have directly improved this work. Please refer all inquiries to the lead author.


This paper presents a case study of the demand for and supply of protectionism upon exposure to international trade. The examination of the crawfish industry demonstrates that theories of the demand for protectionism often provide inadequate or incomplete explanations of outcomes. The curious aspect of this case is that crawfish producers failed to organize to demand protection despite having many factors working in their favor. In fact, political representatives at the state level organized demand from federal agencies on their behalf, thus supplying protection without any real organized demand. In the end, only a handful of crawfish processors (not producers) received any benefits from protection, and Chinese imports still dominate the U.S. crawfish market. The result is consistent with the notion that the U.S. system of trade regulation is designed to produce the appearance, but not the substance of protection in order to uphold general principles of freer trade while making elected officials look responsive to their constituents.