Over the past two decades, regional trade agreements (RTAs) have proliferated alongside the WTO system, involving a wide variety of agreements. In the absence of significant progress on the multilateral front, they have served as focal points of inter-state cooperation, as well as incubators and testing grounds for new trade rules. Over time, these agreements have evolved and many now contain disciplines that are wider in scope, deeper in nature, and significantly more sophisticated than the multilateral trading system. There is also a new trend towards megaregional initiatives of potentially systemic impact, as well as plurilateral negotiations in important functional areas such as services. These developments have opened opportunities but also given rise to challenges, particularly regarding issues of coherence and inclusiveness, in this emerging global trade and investment architecture.
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