Regional trade agreements

Regional trade agreements (RTAs) have risen in number and reach over the years, including a notable increase in large plurilateral agreements under negotiation. Non-discrimination among trading partners is one of the core principles of the WTO; however, RTAs, which are reciprocal preferential trade agreements between two or more partners, constitute one of the exemptions and are authorized under the WTO, subject to a set of rules. Information on RTAs notified to the WTO is available in the RTA Database.

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News 

  

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Introduction

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Facts and figures

As of 1 May 2018, 287 RTAs were in force. These correspond to 459 notifications from WTO members, counting goods, services and accessions separately.

  

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Committee on Regional Trade Agreements

The Committee on Regional Trade Agreements (CRTA) considers individual regional agreements under the Transparency Mechanism for RTAs (see below). It is also mandated to hold discussions on the systemic implications of RTAs for the multilateral trading system, as was reaffirmed by WTO members at the 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in 2015. The CRTA's terms of reference can be found in WT/L/127. The current Chair is .

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Transparency Mechanism for RTAs

WTO members agreed in 2006 to implement a provisional mechanism to enhance the transparency of RTAs and understand their effects on the multilateral system. Under this process, members notify the WTO about their RTAs and these are discussed by the wider WTO membership on the basis of a factual presentation prepared by the WTO Secretariat.

At the 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in 2015, WTO members agreed to work towards the transformation of the provisional mechanism into a permanent mechanism without prejudice to questions related to notification requirements.

Search Documents Online
General documents on regional trade agreements bear the document code WT/REG/*. Under the Doha agenda’s trade negotiations mandate, they use TN/RL/* (where * takes additional values).
These links open a new window: allow a moment for the results to appear.

> help with downloading these documents

  • Documents on Regional Trade Agreements by Country (Document code WT/REG/*)   > search
  • Notifications of Regional Trade Agreements (Document code WT/REG*/N/*)   > search
  • Factual Presentations on Regional Trade Agreements(Document code WT/REG* and keyword “Factual presentation”) 
    > search
  • Questions and Replies on Regional Trade Agreements(Document code RD/RTA* or WT/REG* and keyword “Questions and replies”) 
    > search

> See also Transparency Mechanism communications (early announcements of RTAs, notifications of changes, etc.)

You can perform more sophisticated searches from the Documents Online search facility (opens in new window) by defining multiple search criteria such as document symbol (i.e. code number), full text search or document date.

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Notifications of RTAs

WTO members are obliged to notify the RTAs in which they participate. All of the WTO's members have notified participation in one or more RTAs (some members are party to 20 or more). Notifications may also refer to the accession of new parties to an agreement that already exists, e.g. the notification of the accession of Croatia to the European Union customs union.

For more detail on notifications of RTAs currently in force, consult the summary tables of the RTA Database http://rtais.wto.org/UI/publicsummarytable.aspx

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Evolution of RTAs, 1948-2018

The following chart shows all RTAs notified to the GATT/WTO (1948-2018), including inactive RTAs, by year of entry into force.

A series of interactive graphs, along with the underlying data, is available from the WTO RTA Database: http://rtais.wto.org/UI/Charts.aspx

 

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New developments in RTAs

Many WTO members continue to be involved in negotiations to create new RTAs. Like the agreements in force, most new negotiations are bilateral. However, a recent development has been negotiations among several WTO members. This includes negotiations in:

  • the Asia-Pacific Region for a Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) Agreement,  between 11 parties;
  • Asia between Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members and six other WTO members with which ASEAN has agreements in force (the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement);
  • Latin America to form the Pacific Alliance between Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru; and
  • Africa with the Tripartite Agreement between parties to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Such plurilateral agreements, once in force, have the potential to reduce the spaghetti bowl of RTAs especially if they supersede existing bilateral agreements and develop common rules (such as for rules of origin) to be applied by all parties to the agreement.

Negotiations on RTAs

Negotiations to clarify and improve WTO disciplines on RTAs fall under the work of the Negotiating Group on Rules, which reports to the Trade Negotiations Committee.

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WTO rules on regional trade agreements

The WTO’s rules on regional trade agreements:

Committee meetings

 

RTA Consideration Calendar
Staff working papers on RTAs
Other Resources / Databases of interest