Bilateralism and regionalism: re-establishing the primacy of multilateralism a Latin American and Caribbean perspective
Contributor(s)NU. CEPAL. División de Comercio Internacional e Integración
LIBERALIZACION DEL INTERCAMBIO
RELACIONES ECONOMICAS INTERNACIONALES
INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC RELATIONS
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The slow advancement of the multilateral trading system has led to a wave of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) in Latin America and the Caribbean resulting in a web of bilateral and plurilateral PTAs, with countries both within and outside the region. More than 40 trade agreements now exist in the hemisphere, in addition to other arrangements that are now being negotiated or that will be negotiated before 2006. These agreements and their negotiation processes have generated centripetal and centrifugal forces that tend to unify and divide the regional integration process. While these agreements emerge as an opportunity for signatory countries, they also generate concerns in relation to such aspects as their consistency with multilateral commitments and the broadening and deepening of trade rules and disciplines beyond those being assumed in WTO. The disciplines contemplated in the areas of interest to industrialized countries tend to be WTO-plus, while the issues that affect Latin American and Caribbean signatories are often remitted to the multilateral negotiating forum. Hence, the multilateral level of negotiations cannot be simply replaced by a mix of bilateral and plurilateral negotiations. There is a call for a strong, complementary, mutually reinforcing process among the three (lateral, regional and multilateral) routes to liberalization and regulation. Bilateral agreements between countries or sub-regions could serve as building blocks when and if the precedents they establish are consistent with a comprehensive, balanced WTO that takes due account of the smaller economies' vulnerabilities. This is also true in cases where the commitments made in certain disciplines included in bilateral and sub-regional agreements facilitate the adoption of multilateral rules in the same disciplines. Otherwise, bilateral agreements could impede the construction of a development-oriented WTO, leaving the region with too extensive a web of hub-and-spoke agreements, with high associated costs of administration, transparency and efficiency.