A voluntary export restriction (VT) is a trade restriction on the amount of a product that an exporting country is allowed to export to another country. This limit is set by the exporting country itself. VERs are generally implemented for exports from one country to another. VERs have been in use at least since the 1930s and are used on products ranging from textiles and footwear to steel, machine tools and automobiles. In the 1980s, they became a popular form of protection; they did not violate the provisions of the countries in force under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Following the GATT cycle that ended in Uruguay in 1994, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed not to introduce new VERs and to terminate existing ERVs over a four-year period, with exceptions that could be granted to one sector in each importing country. When negotiating an VER, the importing country tends to avoid the often lengthy, public and often multilateral debate that precedes other forms of protectionism, such as increasing tariffs or introducing quotas. In such a debate, the cost of the protection measure should be better recognized, making the measure politically costly and risky. A VER then has the advantage of avoiding, as a measure of a foreign source, a national struggle; it can often be negotiated quickly without its costs becoming obvious. In addition, with respect to subsidized or suspected exports, national authorities can circumvent the often costly and time-consuming process of an anti-tax investigation by reaching an agreement with the exporter.
Finally, it can be argued that an VER, by addressing the cause of the problem, that is, one or the other low-cost supplier that disrupts domestic industry, extends the need for more comprehensive measures that could harm third countries, as would be the case for a non-discriminatory import quota of the same import reduction (see below). For all these reasons, local policy makers often prefer alternative measures to the VER; it provides relatively rapid and politically low-cost assistance to an industry threatened by import competition. Quantitative export restrictions appear to have first appeared in 1935, when Japan was forced to restrict its textile exports to the United States. However, they have only been widespread in the last ten years. The attached table lists nearly 100 known large ERSs. The actual figure may well be higher, as it is reported that there are various undisclosed agreements between industry and companies. Of the known number of VERs, 55 limit exports to the European Community or its Member States, and 32 limit exports to the United States. In general, worms have been introduced to protect industries in OECD markets, where some developing countries, Eastern European countries or Japan have become serious competitors. In fact, exports from these countries have been held back by about 80 VERs. The figures above do not include the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (AMF), which, along with its predecessor, the Long-Term Arrangement for Cotton Textiles (1962-72), was the veRS model.