The ever-growing number of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) is a prominent feature of international trade. The World Trade Report 2011 describes the historical development of PTAs and the current landscape of agreements. It examines why PTAs are established, their economic effects, and the contents of the agreements themselves.
Finally it considers the interaction between PTAs and the multilateral trading system. Accumulated trade opening - at the multilateral, regional and unilateral level - has reduced the scope for offering preferential tariffs under PTAs. As a result, only a small fraction of global merchandise trade receives preferences and preferential tariffs are becoming less important in PTAs. The report reveals that more and more PTAs are going beyond preferential tariffs, with numerous non-tariff areas of a regulatory nature being included in the agreements. Global production networks may be prompting the emergence of these "deep" PTAs as good governance on a range of regulatory areas is far more important to these networks than further reductions in already low tariffs. Econometric evidence and case studies support this link between production networks and deep PTAs. The report ends by examining the challenge that deep PTAs present to the multilateral trading system and proposes a number of options for increasing coherence between these agreements and the trading system regulated by the WTO.
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