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CEP discussion paper
Regional Trade Agreements
Caroline Freund and Emanuel Ornelas
December 2009
Paper No' CEPDP0961:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: F13; F15

Tags: regionalism; trade creation; trade diversion; external tariffs; trade liberalization

This paper reviews the theoretical and the empirical literature on regionalism. The formation of regional trade agreements has been, by far, the most popular form of reciprocal trade liberalization in the last fifteen years. The discriminatory character of these agreements has raised three main concerns: that trade diversion would be rampant, because special interest groups would induce governments to form the most distortionary agreements; that broader external trade liberalization would stall or reverse; and that multilateralism could be undermined. Theoretically, all of these concerns are legitimate, although there are also several theoretical arguments that oppose them. Empirically, neither widespread trade diversion nor stalled external liberalization have materialized, while the undermining of multilateralism has not been properly tested. There are also several aspects of regionalism that have received too little attention from researchers, but which are central to understanding its causes and consequences.