27 Sep 2013

Taking stock of preferential trade agreements

The world has witnessed a sharp rise in bilateral and regional initiatives to regulate trade and investment relations in the past 10 years. New preferential deals between leading economies have been agreed or are in the pipeline, such as the US-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Audio clip: Manfred Elsig talks about the reasons for focusing on PTAs

Against this background the 2013 World Trade Forum opened at the WTI on 27 September on the topic of Trade Cooperation: The Purpose, Design and Effects of Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs). Speakers included some of the world’s leading scholars whose research focuses on the politics, law and economics of PTAs.

“It’s time to take stock; 700 agreements have been negotiated over the last 60 years, so we have enough data now to analyse why they are created, and what is the purpose, function and most importantly the effect of these agreements,” commented Forum organiser Professor Manfred Elsig, Deputy Managing Director of the WTI.

Elsig said there was a great deal of political talk about preferential trade agreements because they would have a long-term impact on how trade is regulated in the future.

“Now we are approaching an interesting new stage because we have these mega plurilaterals which are being negotiated and that will most likely present templates for future agreements, so they’re very, very important.“

“It’s a good time in history to look back and to learn and to look forward.”

Helen Milner from Princeton University said there were high hopes on both sides of the Atlantic that the TTIP would generate growth and employment. “In the wake of the financial crisis and the great recession, leaders in both the US and Europe see trade agreements and trade as a major engine of economic growth,” she said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, too, a mega agreement is in the pipeline that will have huge implications for trade in the area, as Soo Yeon Kim from the National University of Singapore pointed out. “There’s a great deal of excitement about the ASEAN Economic Community that’s supposed to come into existence in 2015. The idea is to create a single market within the ASEAN 10. It’s almost an ‘EU light' in terms of goods travelling freely across borders at zero tariffs,” she remarked.

Now in its second decade, the World Trade Forum is an annual conference held at the WTI at which leading international experts discuss new frontiers in global trade diplomacy. The proceedings will be published in a book series by Cambridge University Press.