Date of this Version
In the mid-1990s, the policy debate within the WTO focused on whether regional trade agreements (RTAs) were building blocks or stumbling blocks for the WTO system, essentially questioning whether regionalism was appropriate at all from an economic policy perspective. Given the proliferation of RTAs since that time and the inability to roll back the clock, that policy debate has been replaced by a search for strengthened constraints on RTA activity that might ensure it complements the WTO system. Three major controversies within many existing RTAs are the exclusion of agriculture from coverage, complex and restrictive rules of origin, and varied treatment of the application of trade remedies. Despite some competing policy considerations, it is likely, on balance, that the WTO system would benefit if agriculture was required to be included in RTA coverage, if RTA rules of origin were simplified and liberalized, and if the controversy surrounding RTA treatment of trade remedies was cleared up. However, the search for constraints within the WTO system to achieve these results, either through the Doha negotiations or the dispute settlement system seems unlikely to succeed in the near future. Accordingly, enhanced and extended efforts by the US, either unilaterally or in conjunction with its RTA partners utilizing its negotiating leverage, may be a necessary supplement to efforts within the WTO in ensuring a more harmonious relationship between RTAs and the WTO system.