Chapter 13: Regional trade agreements and safeguard measures
Alongside the multilateral trade agreements under the auspices of the WTO, which provide legal disciplines on international trade for 159 countries, there also exist a number of regional trade agreements (RTAs) agreed between two or more countries as reciprocal trade agreements on preferential terms. As of January 15, 2013, 414 RTAs were notified to the WTO. Of these, 235 were in force. RTAs today not only set forth trade liberalization for the signatory countries, but also provide rules on trade in various areas, including trade remedy measures such as safeguard measures, rules of origin, trade-related intellectual property rights, investment, and government procurement. Since over 90 percent of WTO Members have joined one or more RTAs, the rules provided by RTAs comprise an important part of the global legal disciplines applicable to international trade, along with the WTO legal disciplines. Many of these rules, set by hundreds of RTAs, are not identical and also show significant differences from the WTO legal disciplines. This creates potential conflicts between the WTO disciplines and RTAs, as well as among different RTAs. For a WTO Member which is also a signatory of RTAs, a formidable amount of administrative work will be a dilemma where it has to deal with, for instance, multiple rules of origin among the RTAs. The Member may also have to face the forum selection issue where a trade issue with its trading partner can be addressed by different forums applying different substantive and procedural rules, which might therefore lead to a different outcome.
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