An increasing number of WTO Members are embracing a trade policy
strategy based on the promotion of free trade by targeting multiple
fronts, working concurrently towards improving the regulatory framework
of global trade through multilateral negotiations, and pursuing an
ardent, albeit more conspicuous, agenda of negotiations of regional
trade agreements (RTAs). By doing so, a patchwork of less-than-global
trading agreements builds up.
RTAs can potentially hinder the objective of a coherent and transparent
multilateral trading system (MTS) by discriminating against third
parties, distorting trade flows, and by detracting limited resources
from multilateral to regional and bilateral trade negotiations. As their
number and scope expand to include complex regulatory trade provisions,
trade in services and investment-based activity, the importance of
improving the formal and substantive links between RTAs and the
multilateral trading system (MTS) is becoming apparent. Even more so as
no effective multilateral surveillance mechanism is in place to address
those cases where RTAs may not be in line with the spirit of WTO
fundamental principles; this may result in unbalances between the
liberalization efforts being pursued regionally and multilaterally and
increasingly generate tensions.
Ministers at Doha acknowledged this urgency and agreed that the
promotion of trade liberalization and of economic development, in line
with the MTS, should inform the current negotiations on RTA rules.
Progress has been made towards enhancing the transparency of RTAs, which
if endorsed would result in increased knowledge of the inter-relation
between RTAs and the MTS. Meeting the challenges posed by the
proliferation of RTAs, however, calls for Members to explore further the
negotiating mandate and address longstanding systemic issues whose
controversy has dominated much of the debate and impasse on RTAs in the
GATT and WTO.
The Seminar was designed to assist Members in furthering discussion and
thinking about how to best converge RTAs with the objectives of the
multilateral trading system. It addressed four major questions:
extent do RTAs complement the MTS?
are RTAs in promoting economic development and integration of
developing countries into the global economy?
What are the
effects of RTAs' trade regulatory functions on international trade
How can RTAs
convergence with the MTS be maximised and any distortive effects
The event was
open to WTO Members and Observers and it included as guest speakers
senior academics and representatives from institutions.