Free trade versus protection refers to the age-old controversy in the theory and practice of commercial policy of the government towards international trade. Free trade is a policy of complete freedom in international trade.
Protection, on the other hand, refers to a system of restrictions on trade. Although there has never been a period when international trade was entirely free, yet the world came nearest to free trade in 1860’s, largely due to the influence of Napoleon III of France.
In the beginning of the 20th century, there was shift from free trade to protection. Both free trade and the volume of world trade reached their minimum level during the Great Depression of 1929-35.
After World War II, again efforts were made through the inception of General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the formation of Free Trade Area, towards reducing the restrictions on international trade and encouraging free trade.