The aim of the article was to present the premises and evolution of protectionism in agricultural trade and to show the changes in significance of tariff and non-tariff barriers of intervention for the trade in agricultural products. The abolition of customs duties entails an increase in the number and the role of non-tariff barriers in trade policy applied by individual countries. The factors determining the degree of intensity in the use of protective instruments include the level of GDP per capita. In the agri-food sector, an intensified protectionism can be observed along with an increased degree of economic development. In spite of the fact that richer countries declare their support for free trade, they take intense actions to protect their domestic production from the competitive imports and are unwilling to abandon this policy, which can be observed e.g. in prolonged negotiations on further liberalisation of world agricultural trade in the WTO forum.