In the early 1990s, the world witnessed a growth in regional trade agreements unprecedented in history. This proliferation was rationalized at the time in terms of widespread concern relating to the potential failure of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations and the ensuing weakness – if not collapse – of the rules-based multilateral trading system. Countries were installing their own safety nets on a regional basis should the multilateral system disintegrate.
One decade on – and notwithstanding both the success of the Uruguay Round and the launching of the Doha Development Round of multilateral negotiations – the exponential growth of regional trading arrangements continues. This new burst of growth is characterized by a number of peculiarities that set it apart from traditional agreements based on the agreed reduction of border restrictions for states located in the same part of the world. Many agreements now reach deep into the regulatory structures of the parties concerned, addressing, inter alia, regulations relating to competition policy, investment, harmonization of standards, the environment and labour standards. In addition, some agreements are no longer regional in character and span continents to build new agreements or create fusions between existing ones.
These and other peculiarities of the recently negotiated regional trade agreements raise crucial questions with respect to current and future international economic relations. What motivations lie behind the negotiation of these agreements, and is a pattern emerging in their nature and