Benefits of trade liberalisation

Regional Trade Agreements


Introduction to Regional Trade Agreements

Regional trade agreements (RTAs) cover more than half of international trade and operate alongside global multilateral agreements under the World Trade Organization (WTO). Two broad policy lessons have emerged from OECD work in this area. The first is that the actual effects of RTAs bolster the case for a strengthened multilateral framework, particularly when regionalism leads to a patchwork effect between members and non-members within the concerned region, and thereby raise transaction costs for business. A second lesson is that while some consequences of RTA activity contribute to the case for strengthening the multilateral framework, some features of regional approaches may complement multilateral rules. The scope for such complementarity arises from the contribution which regional initiatives can make towards multilaterally-driven liberalisation and harmonious rule-making that goes beyond the WTO. Together, these two elements have yielded highly effective synergies between approaches at the regional and multilateral levels.


Policy domains in RTAs

Multilateralising Regionalism

These papers explore the relationship between regional trade agreements and the multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization (WTO). Can elements of WTO-plus regional commitments be usefully multilateralised; if so, which and how? These papers assess the conditions under which regional commitments across different policy areas may be able to serve as ‘building blocks’ for future multilateral policy-making.

Related links: OECD Global Forum on Trade, Spring 2014




This work looks at the treatment of agricultural issues in Regional Trade Agreements and compares it to that of the WTO. The reports cover market access, subsidies, trade remedies, and requirements relating to sanitary & phytosanitary measures (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT). The studies also assess the economic impact of agriculture commitments in RTAs and find trade creation effects.



Technical Barriers to Trade

These studies examine legal provisions concerning technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures in RTAs, assessing their degree of similarity and convergence with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, as well as with each other. An analysis of African RTAs describes concrete steps that countries have taken in order to reduce technical barriers in South-South arrangements.



Export Restrictions

Export restrictions and duties have not been given the same degree of attention in multilateral trade agreements and negotiations as the elimination of import tariffs and quantitative restrictions. This study suggests that there are a number of ways by which WTO disciplines could benefit from the approaches found in some RTAs in the area of export restrictions.

Related links: OECD work on Export Restrictions



Trade Faciliation and Rules of Origin

Related links: OECD work on Trade Facilitation



Government Procurement

The potential multilateralisation of government procurement commitments in regional trade agreements (RTAs) presents many issues and challenges. This study examines the extent to which RTAs go beyond the 2012 revised Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) of the World Trade Organisation. Overall, the study finds that non-GPA parties have achieved the general GPA level of market access commitments in their RTAs.




These reports examine the services schedules commitments in a selection of RTAs and compares them with corresponding commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The work assesses if the services commitments that countries have made in these RTAs are indicative of the types of concessions that countries may be willing to multilateralise under the GATS.




These papers take stock of recent developments in the inclusion of environmental considerations in Regional Trade Agreements. How are environmental provisions being incorporated in RTAs? What is the impact of RTAs containing environmental commitments, and how can they contribute to green growth? These reports investigate the negotiation, implementation and impact of environmental commitments in RTAs.



Investment and Competition

Regional trade agreements increasingly include comprehensive coverage of investment and competition. These studies survey the types of competition provisions that have been negotiated, as well as the treatment of investment and its interaction with services. The work also finds that investment provisions incorporated in RTAs are positively associated with trade and, to an even greater extent, investment flows.




Recent RTAs can be credited for introducing new instruments that aim to promote greater transparency and predictability in international trade policy. These studies review emerging practices in regulatory transparency in RTAs, and empirically investigates their determinants and economic impact. The analysis finds that RTAs with more sophisticated mechanisms for enhancing transparency appear to be more strongly trade-promoting than those with shallower commitments on transparency.




For questions regarding OECD work on regional trade agreements, please contact the OECD's Trade and Agriculture Directorate.


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