Generalized System of Preferences (GSP): Overview and Issues for Congress



Vivian C. Jones | Congressional Research Service


The U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program provides nonreciprocal, duty-free tariff treatment to certain products imported from designated beneficiary developing countries (BDCs). The United States, the European Union, and other developed countries have implemented similar programs since the 1970s. Congress first authorized the U.S. program in Title V of the Trade Act of 1974, and most recently extended the GSP program in Division M, Title V of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141). This Act, extended the GSP program until December 31, 2020, as well as retroactively renewing it for the time period between December 31, 2017 (the previous expiration date) and April 22, 2018.

Currently, 120 developing countries and territories are GSP beneficiary developing countries (BDCs). The program provides duty-free entry into the United States for over 3,500 products (based on 8-digit U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule tariff lines) from BDCs, and duty-free status to an additional 1,500 products from 44 GSP beneficiaries additionally designated as least developed beneficiary developing countries (LDBDCs). In 2018, products valued at about $23.8 billion (imports for consumption) entered the United States duty-free under the program, out of $238.4 billion worth of total imports from GSP-eligible countries. Total U.S. imports from all countries amounted to about $2.6 trillion in 2018.

In recent years, Members of Congress have held a range of views on whether or not to continue to include emerging market developing countries (e.g., India, Brazil, Turkey) as beneficiaries, or to limit the program to least-developed countries. Duty-free access for products deemed “import sensitive” has caused some controversy, as well as concerns about certain beneficiaries’ compliance with GSP eligibility requirements based on alleged violations of worker rights, failure to protect intellectual property, and other practices. In May 2019, President Trump terminated Turkey’s GSP designation based on its improved level of economic development. The President also terminated India’s GSP eligibility in June 2019 on the basis of market access issues. GSP is one of several trade preference programs through which the United States seeks to help developing countries expand their economies.

Other U.S. trade preference programs are regionally focused, including the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI, includes preference programs for Haiti). U.S. implementation of GSP requires that developing countries meet certain eligibility criteria, such as providing the U.S. with adequate market access, taking steps to maintain internationally recognized worker rights and protect intellectual property rights, among other things. GSP rules of origin require that at least 35% of the appraised value of the product be the “growth, product, or manufacture” of the BDC. Certain “import-sensitive” products (e.g., most textiles and apparel) are specifically excluded, and limits are placed on the quantity or value of any one product imported from any one country under the program (except for products from LDBDCs and AGOA countries). GSP country and product eligibility are also subject to annual review.

This report examines, first, recent legislative developments, along with a brief history, economic rationale, and legal background leading to the establishment of the GSP. Second, the report describes U.S. GSP implementation. Third, the report briefly analyzes the U.S. program’s effectiveness and stakeholders’ views, and discusses possible options for Congress.


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