Regional Trading Agreements
There are different types of economic integration across the globe, ranging from free trade agreements, in which participants allow each other’s imports without tariffs or quotas, to common markets, in which participants have a common external trade policy as well as free trade within the group, to full economic unions, in which, in addition to a common market, monetary and fiscal policies are coordinated. Many nations belong both to the World Trade Organization and to regional trading agreements.
The best known of these regional trading agreements is the European Union. In the years after World War II, leaders of several European nations reasoned that if they could tie their economies together more closely, they might be more likely to avoid another devastating war. Their efforts began with a free trade association, evolved into a common market, and then transformed into what is now a full economic union, known as the European Union. The EU, as it is often called, has a number of goals. For example, in the early 2000s it introduced a common currency for Europe, the euro, and phased out most of the former national forms of money like the German mark and the French franc, though a few have retained their own currency. Another key element of the union is to eliminate barriers to the mobility of goods, labor, and capital across Europe.
For the United States, perhaps the best-known regional trading agreement is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The United States also participates in some less-prominent regional trading agreements, like the Caribbean Basin Initiative, which offers reduced tariffs for imports from these countries, and a free trade agreement with Israel.
The world has seen a flood of regional trading agreements in recent years. About 100 such agreements are now in place. A few of the more prominent ones are listed in the table below. Some are just agreements to continue talking; others set specific goals for reducing tariffs, import quotas, and nontariff barriers. One economist described the current trade treaties as a “spaghetti bowl,” which is what a map with lines connecting all the countries with trade treaties looks like.
There is concern among economists who favor free trade that some of these regional agreements may promise free trade, but actually act as a way for the countries within the regional agreement to try to limit trade from anywhere else. In some cases, the regional trade agreements may even conflict with the broader agreements of the World Trade Organization.
Some Regional Trade Agreements
|Trade Agreements||Participating Countries|
|Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)||Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, Vietnam|
|European Union (EU)||Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom|
|North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)||Canada, Mexico, United States|
|Latin American Integration Association (LAIA)||Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela|
|Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)||Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam|
|Southern African Development Community (SADC)||Angola, Botswana, Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe|