Although market access provisions in trade in goods in RTAs have been addressed in a number of studies, much of this work has been limited to subsets of RTAs, particularly plurilateral RTAs involving three or more parties. The goal of the current study is to expand beyond the more commonly studied RTAs and to include all RTAs notified to the WTO for which data are available. This task has been facilitated by the recent Transparency Mechanism for RTAs (TM), adopted in 2006, that provides the basis for the systematic provision of detailed tariff and trade data by WTO Members engaged in RTAs. This information has been supplemented by other public sources of data, where available.
A number of trends are evident. While a majority of RTAs result in a reasonably high degree of liberalization overall (with developing countries often liberalizing as much or more than developed countries), liberalization is not uniform across products or RTA parties. In some RTAs the degree of liberalization appears to be a negotiated outcome, depending on the RTA partner. Agricultural goods continue to be subject to lower levels of liberalization, frequent product exclusions and systematic protection in some RTAs, regardless of the RTA partner’s comparative advantage. Nonetheless, a lower level of ambition in some RTAs is tempered by a commitment to negotiate further concessions or expand upon the RTA’s scope at some future point: more than half the RTAs analysed contain such a commitment. Much has been written about the potential for the multilateralization of commitments undertaken in RTAs. While there may be scope for positive externalities in terms of regulatory convergence particularly with regard to services liberalization undertaken in RTAs, there is less evidence in this study to suggest that increased market access in merchandise goods leads to a more favourable trading environment for third parties.
Continuing constructive engagement by WTO Members in the Transparency Mechanism through the provision of data, timely notifications, and submission of implementation reports will increase the availability of tariff and trade liberalization data, thus facilitating further examination of the topics highlighted in the study as worthy of future research.
Regional Trade Agreements, market access, liberalization.
JEL classification numbers:
F13, F14, F15, F53
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