Regional Trade Agreements and the Multilateral Trading System”, edited by Rohini Acharya, Chief of the RTA Section, and authored by staff of the WTO Secretariat, examines provisions contained within these reciprocal trade deals to see to what extent they reflect or diverge from the WTO's legal texts. The book thus provides a greater understanding of whether RTAs are creating new standards different from the WTO's and the possible implications these pose. Amid the growing number and complexity of RTAs today, the publication contributes to the current debate on the role of the WTO in regulating international trade.

The contributors to the book look at RTA provisions liberalizing trade in goods and services as well as other provisions covering a range of issues, such as trade defence, trade facilitation, standards, intellectual property and dispute settlement. The chapters are based on all RTAs notified to the WTO up until 2014. Thus, in contrast to other publications, the studies in this book set out to capture all the different approaches and standards developed by RTAs rather than just those taken by the world's largest traders. A final chapter presents views on the implications of these studies' findings for the multilateral trading system and suggests next steps to further enhance understanding on this issue.

In launching the publication, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo highlighted the importance of the book's findings to the ongoing conversation about RTAs and ways these agreements could be further improved. He noted how the WTO will continue efforts to improve the trading environment on the multilateral track while also seeking to improve coherence with other initiatives.

He said: “More can be done to promote coherence. We have been building a record of success here in Geneva. After a long period when RTAs were at the forefront of the trade debate, I think we are starting to see a shift.

“We will continue our efforts at the multilateral level. And while we seek to improve coherence between different initiatives, I have absolutely no doubt that RTAs will continue to coexist with the multilateral trading system and will in fact reinforce the multilateral system in the future as they have always done in the past.” His full speech is available here.

Also speaking at the launch, Rohini Acharya said that the book brings together work done by staff members of the WTO Secretariat and adds to the existing literature on RTAs. It had also benefited from a seminar held for WTO members in September 2014 and she hoped it would be useful in the current debate in the WTO on the systemic implications of RTAs for the multilateral trading system.

Bernard Hoekman, Professor and Director for Global Economics at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, was also on the speaking panel at the book launch along with Ambassador Daniel Blockert (Sweden), who chairs the WTO Committee on RTAs.

“This book looks at all agreements out there and sheds a lot of light on issues that are debated often without evidence. It opens the black box of preferential trade agreements,” Mr Hoekman said. “This is a wonderful piece of work and I look forward to the next one which will hopefully help us understand how these things are implemented.”

Mr Blockert said: “We are having this discussion on RTAs everywhere else but not at the WTO. And I do hope that will change. I think there are signs that interest and engagement is increasing.”

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