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Multilateralizing Regionalism

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Regional trade agreements (RTAs) have proliferated around the world in the past two decades, and now nearly all members of the WTO are party to at least one. Besides tariffs and rules of origin regulating trade in goods, many RTAs now include provisions on services, investments, technical barriers to trade and competition rules, as well as a host of issues not directly related to trade. The geographic reach of RTAs is expanding, with transcontinental agreements spreading forcefully alongside intra-regional agreements. ‘Multilateralizing Regionalism’ was the title of a major conference held from 10–12 September 2007 at the WTO in Geneva. Brought together in this publication, the conference papers achieve two things. First, they marshall detailed, new empirical work on the nature of the ‘Spaghetti Bowl’ and the problems it poses for the multilateral trade system. Second, they contribute fresh and creative thinking on how to ‘tame the tangle’ of regional trade agreements.

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Multilateralizing regional trade arrangements in Asia

East Asian economies have grown rapidly over the last four decades, driven by the expansion of international trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). They have now moved toward formal economic integration through bilateral and plurilateral free trade agreements (FTAs). The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is emerging as the integration hub for FTAs in East Asia, while the People’s Republic of China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea also have formal economic ties with ASEAN, and India, Australia and New Zealand are joining the bandwagon. How can East Asia ensure that the region’s noodle bowl of FTAs can be consolidated into a single East Asian FTA – a stepping stone toward global integration?

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