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Regionalism and the Multilateral Trading System

Regionalism and the Multilateral Trading System by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
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Regional trade agreements (RTAs) are increasingly portrayed as a threat to the free global exchange of goods and services. They involve an ever-growing share of world trade. The proportion of world trade covered by such accords is expected to grow from 43% today to 55% in 2005, if all regional agreements now in discussion are actually put into place. Moreover, in the event of a log jam in the ongoing Doha round of multilateral trade talks under the WTO, many WTO members are ready to place even greater emphasis on regional initiatives.

Against this backdrop, this study compares rule-making provisions in regional trade agreements with those of the WTO in individual chapters covering ten specific areas: services, labour mobility, investment, competition policy, trade facilitation, government procurement, intellectual property rights, contingency protection, environment, and rules of origin. Three main questions are addressed: How far do RTAs go beyond existing multilateral trade rules in the WTO? Do they present a divergence from or a convergence with the multilateral system? What are the effects on non-members?

It emerges clearly from the ten papers that precisely because they are both a sub-set of liberalisation and an exception to the most-favoured-nation (MFN) principle, RTAs have both positive and negative impacts. How these positive and negative elements play out is, accordingly, a central theme of this study. The principal purpose of this book is to clarify the relationship between regionalism and the multilateral trading system. It also aims to provide an analytical framework for WTO members' ongoing consideration of how best to manage that relationship and how to foster the complementarities between RTAs and the multilateral system.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; January 2003
170 pages; ISBN 9789264101371
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Title: Regionalism and the Multilateral Trading System
Author: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development