Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) are fashionable. Many developing countries are, or are likely to become, involved In negotiating such arrangements. But do they advance or retard multilateralist and developmental objectives?
Neither economic nor political analysis can supply a definitive answer, partly because of the great variety of “free” trade agreements, but they can identify the key questions to be asked of any proposal. Agreements that liberalise a high proportion of participants’ trade, extend the boundaries of trade policy in ways that are compatible with multilateral accords, and ease barriers vis-á-vis non-members are generally to be preferred to those that do not. The EU’s recent and proposed agreements do not score highly on these criteria.