Always look at the bright side of non-delivery: WTO and Preferential Trade Agreements, yesterday and today

Mavroidis, Petros C.

The disciplining of Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) by the WTO has been 'relaxed' recently as a result of the new context (the Transparency Mechanism) within which notified PTAs are being multilaterally reviewed. This is probably a blessing for a number of reasons, including the success of the multilateral trading system in bringing tariffs down over the years (and the ensuing reduced trade diversion), the fact that modern PTAs deal with many non-trade issues as well (for which no WTO disciplines exist), and the recent empirical literature suggesting overall positive welfare implications for those participating in similar schemes. This paper discusses these and other reasons to support the view that the WTO should rather focus on the multilateral agenda instead of diverting its attention towards disciplining PTAs. In more concrete terms, this paper argues in support of the thesis that the Transparency Mechanism should not be simply a de facto substitute of the previous regime (where outlawing a PTA could not a priori be excluded), but the de jure new forum to discuss PTAs within the multilateral trading system, at least for the time being. A first do-no-harm-policy is one of the rationales for the thesis advocated here.


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World Trade Review

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July 18, 2012