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Intellectual property provisions in regional trade agreements

This paper assembles detailed information about the intellectual property (IP) provisions contained in 194 active regional trade agreements (RTAs) that had been notified to the WTO by November 2010. 

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IP provisions in RTAs have been the subject of much study and commentary. However, much of this work has focused on a relatively limited number of RTAs, with a concentration on parties with narrow geographical and economic profiles. The goal of the current study was to expand beyond the more commonly studied RTAs, to make an initial review of the full array of RTAs notified to the WTO, and in that way to lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive overview that would enable consideration of the broader system implications of this more diverse range of norm-setting activity. This was tackled by conducting a comprehensive mapping of the IP content in a larger number of RTAs involving parties from all regions and across different levels of development. This broad approach is necessary to better understand cross-cutting trends in RTAs, and how all the parts of the international IP framework influence each other.

The methodology followed involved surveying each RTA in the sample to determine whether it made reference to any of 30 different IP-related provisions.  The relevant provisions are discussed in detail and summary statistics used to identify patterns over time and by continent, level of economic development, and selected traders.  The number of IP provisions in each RTA is then used to classify agreements according to their level of IP content. 

The first significant identified trend is the acceleration in the conclusion of RTAs with IP provisions after the creation of the WTO and the entry into force of the WTO TRIPS Agreement.  A significant proportion of those RTAs contain some type of IP provision, but the number and type of those provisions vary widely across agreements.  More than two-thirds of the RTAs surveyed include provisions on border measures or statements of general commitment to IP protection or cooperation.  A smaller proportion contains explicit provisions on specific fields of IP law, such as geographical indications, patents, trademarks and copyright. The inclusion of even more detailed provisions elaborating on specific areas of IP law is less common.  As a result, the actual IP content of RTAs differs greatly across the sample, with about 40% of these agreements found to have negligible substantive IP standards. 

A significant number of RTAs containing more detailed IP provisions are characterized by a hub-and-spoke architecture in which the wording and structure of IP provisions converged around the RTAs of specific countries or blocs.  The largest systems are grouped around the EFTA, the European Union and the United States with countries like Chile, Japan and Mexico constituting other hubs.  The hub-and-spoke architecture seems to have encouraged the convergence of domestic IP regimes among the respective RTA signatories.  The mechanics of this potentially crucial process and its economic implications require further investigation.  The analytical methodology followed in this paper also needs additional development to take better advantage of the information gathered together in the course of this study and other data.


No: ERSD-2012-21


Raymundo Valdés and Runyowa Tavengwa, WTO

Manuscript date: October 2012

Key Words:

Regional Trade Agreements, Intellectual Property Rights, WTO, TRIPS

JEL classification numbers:

F13, F15, F53, O34

Disclaimer  back to top

This is a working paper, and hence it represents research in progress. This paper represents the opinions of the author, and is the product of professional research. It is not meant to represent the position or opinions of the WTO or its Members, nor the official position of any staff members. Any errors are the fault of the author. Copies of working papers can be requested from the divisional secretariat by writing to: Economic Research and Statistics Division, World Trade Organization, Rue de Lausanne 154, CH 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland. Please request papers by number and title.

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