Introduction The global trading system is now comprised of an inter-locking, ever-growing, network of bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral trade agreements. It would be easy to assume that trade agreements, whether bilateral, plurilateral or regional, are necessarily beneficial for trade. After all, such agreements pursue the common goal of trade promotion through liberalisation. More trade agreements of whatever type might, therefore, translate into more trade liberalisation. The shortcoming of this assumption is, however, that bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral agreements pursue this goal in different and often conflicting ways. A core objective of the multilateral trading system is ‘the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international trade relations’. In pursuit of this objective, WTO Members must accord equal treatment to the goods and services of all other WTO Members (through ‘most-favoured-nation’ or ‘MFN’ treatment). In contrast, bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements – preferential trade agreements (PTAs) – pursue trade liberalisation through precisely this type of discrimination. The parties to a PTA liberalise trade solely among themselves, creating a network of special preferences within the PTA that are not available to other WTO Members. PTAs, therefore, entrench the very discrimination that WTO rules seek to eliminate. This key difference in approach makes the relationship between multilateralism and regionalism both complicated and controversial. In economic terms, it is still not clear whether maintaining an ever-growing network of PTAs alongside multilateral rules produces an overall increase or decrease in economic welfare.
|Title of host publication||Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements|
|Subtitle of host publication||Commentary and Analysis|
|Editors||Simon Lester, Bryan Mercurio|
|Publisher||Cambridge University Press|
|Number of pages||33|
|Publication status||Published - 2009|