Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Work of the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements (CRTA)

In February 1996, the WTO General Council established the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements. Its two principal duties are to examine individual regional agreements; and to consider the systemic implications of the agreements for the multilateral trading system and the relationship between them. The CRTA's terms of reference can be found in WT/L/127. The current chair is .

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As a result of the General Council Decision of 14 December 2006 on a “Transparency Mechanism for Regional Trade Agreements” (WT/L/671), the work of the Committee has been substantially revised.

The below-mentioned procedures are therefore currently de facto replaced by the procedures established, on a provisional basis, by the Transparency Mechanism for regional trade agreements. It should nevertheless be noted that the General Council's Decision of 14 December 2006 on the Transparency Mechanism has been adopted “without prejudging the substance and the timing of the notification required under Article XXIV of the GATT 1994, Article V of the GATS or the Enabling Clause, nor affecting Members' rights and obligations under the WTO agreements in any way”.

  • To retrieve information on the new Transparency Mechanism for RTAs, please consult the Dedicated webpage.
  • To see historical background information on the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements, see below:

During the GATT years, examination of agreements was conducted in individual working parties. The establishment of the CRTA as the single body responsible for the examination of agreements helped streamline the examination process and provided a forum for the discussion of cross-cutting systemic issues which are common to most, if not all, agreements.

RTAs falling under Article XXIV are notified to the Council for Trade in Goods (CTG) which adopts the terms of reference and transfers the agreement to the CRTA for examination.

The notification of agreements falling under the Enabling Clause is made to the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD). The agreement is placed in the agenda of the CTD meeting where a debate is held, but, generally, no in-depth examination in the CRTA is requested by the CTD.

RTAs covering trade in services concluded by any WTO Members, whether developed or developing, are notified to the Council for Trade in Services (CTS). The CTS may decide to pass the agreement to the CRTA for examination — but unlike the case of RTAs notified under Article XXIV of the GATT, such examination is optional, not mandatory.

The examination of an agreement in the CRTA serves two purposes: it ensures the transparency of RTAs and allows Members to evaluate an agreement's consistency with WTO rules. The examination is conducted on the basis of information provided by the parties to the RTA, through written replies to written questions posed by WTO Members or through oral replies to questions posed at CRTA meetings. Once the factual examination is concluded, the Secretariat drafts the examination report. Thereafter, consultations are conducted and once the report is agreed by the CRTA, it is submitted to the relevant superior body for adoption.

However, no examination report has been finalized since 1995 because of lack of consensus. One problem derives from the possible links between CRTA-consistency judgement and the dispute settlement process. In addition, there are long-standing controversies about the interpretation of the WTO provisions against which RTAs are assessed, and institutional problems arising either from the absence of WTO rules (e.g. on preferential rules of origin), or from discrepancies between WTO rules and those contained in some RTAs.

Against this background, WTO Members, meeting at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha, while recognizing that RTAs can play an important role in promoting trade liberalization and in fostering economic development, also stressed the need for a harmonious relationship between the multilateral and regional processes. On this basis, Ministers agreed to launch negotiations aimed at clarifying and improving the disciplines and procedures under the existing WTO provisions applying to RTAs, while taking due account of the developmental aspects of these agreements.

The CRTA's other two functions are to consider how the required reporting on the operation of agreements should be carried out and to develop procedures to facilitate and improve the examination process.

Reporting   Back to top

Under reporting, the CRTA has developed a regular schedule for the submission of biennial reports which applies to those RTAs where an examination report has already been adopted. The document reference of such reports can be found in the table by examination status (in MS Excel, 112KB) under WT/document series.

Procedures Back to top

Under procedures to facilitate and improve the examination process
(see documents in MS Word format: WT/REG/W/9 (6 page, 68KB) and WT/REG/W/15 (in PDF format 4 pages, 38KB) the Committee has developed a Standard Format for the submission of agreements in the area of goods : WT/REG/W/6 (in PDF format, 4 pages, 33KB) and in the area of services (see document in PDF format: WT/REG/W/14, 4 pages, 31KB).

Systemic issues Back to top

The Committee agreed to deal with “systemic issues” (questions of cross-cutting concern) under a three-pronged approach, encompassing (i) legal analyses of relevant WTO provisions; (ii) horizontal comparisons of RTAs; and (iii) a debate on the context and economic aspects of RTAs.

The legal analysis of WTO provisions has underlined the divergent views that exist on the interpretation of certain elements of the WTO rules governing RTAs. In-depth discussions have taken place on many aspects of GATT Article XXIV, the Enabling Clause and GATS Article V based on submissions by WTO Members and papers by the Secretariat. Document WT/REG/W/37 (in MS Word, 39 pages, 207KB) summarizes on a factual basis the discussion on the legal aspects of the WTO provisions. See also the Annotated Checklist of Systemic Issues (WT/REG/W/16 in PDF, 14 pages, 94KB) prepared by the Secretariat.

The Secretariat has compiled studies on the horizontal comparisons of RTAs. See the Inventory of Non-Tariff Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements WT/REG/W/26 (in MS Word, 9 pages, 172KB), Rules of Origin Regimes in Regional Trade Agreements WT/REG/W/45 (in MS Word, 29 pages, 258KB) and Coverage, Liberalization Process and Transitional Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements WT/REG/W/46 in MS Word, 51 pages, 2330KB).

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