Regional trade agreements (RTAs) have proliferated around the globe in the past decades. There has been an intense debate about their implications for the world trading system. By now, the evidence seems to point out that most RTAs have been trade-creating. The question is more about whether and how RTAs can be additive to the global trading system. In this sense, RTAs have emerged as incubators of new trade and trade-related rules. In some of these areas, RTAs are unquestionably more advanced and sophisticated than the multilateral system. RTAs have also been found to impart benefits that go well beyond traditional analyses on static gains from trade. The challenge ahead is how the WTO system and RTAs can be most synergistic and help deepen and improve each other. Various measures can be pursued. As a multilateral organisation, the WTO is uniquely placed to provide dedicated “RTA Exchange” where all matters related to RTAs could be discussed among all WTO members. This exchange would enhance RTAs’ transparency and facilitate multilateralisation of RTA disciplines and best practices. The RTA Exchange could be complemented by a dedicated forum for discussing complementary policies to RTAs to facilitate trade, such as physical infrastructure improvements. Multilateralisation would further be enabled by reforms in WTO’s negotiation.
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