General Issues and Regional Groups
Edited by Miroslav N. Jovanović
Chapter 1: The Never-ending Story of Regional Trade Agreements
Roberto V. Fiorentino 1 INTRODUCTORY REMARKS1 Proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs) is arguably the single most important systemic development of the multilateral trading system (MTS) since the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. During this time the total number of RTAs has more than doubled as WTO members have increasingly turned to such agreements to pursue their different trade liberalisation and trade policy agendas; as a result, a labyrinthine network of RTAs has begun to emerge which is gradually turning the global trading architecture into a complex and multilayered regime of bilateral, plurilateral, intra- and cross-regional preferential trade arrangements. In the words of WTO Director-General, Mr Pascal Lamy, RTA proliferation has become a ‘breeding concern’ for the MTS, noticeably by increasing discrimination and complexity in trade relations and by undermining the transparency and predictability of the MTS and by extension, the standing of the WTO as the main global forum for trade liberalisation and rule making. The WTO is at the centre of this expanding web of preferential trade regimes, and the challenge it faces today is to preserve and strengthen its rules-based system while building synergies between preferential and most favoured nation (MFN) trade relations; an important step in this respect will be to ensure that its RTA surveillance mechanism is adequately equipped to function effectively as an interface between the preferential and MFN regimes. This chapter addresses recent developments in RTA proliferation and the WTO’s role in relation to these agreements. The chapter is...
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