The WTO and Regional Trading Agreements: Is it All Over for Multilateralism?

29 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2015

See all articles by L. Alan Winters

L. Alan Winters

University of Sussex; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: December 2015


The number of operative regional trading agreements (RTAs) has been rising steadily. This paper reviews the history of regionalism, and argues that the increasing focus of RTAs on nontariff measures and non-trade issues make the creation of coalitions of countries to pursue specific rather than global objectives easier. In the process important aspects of multilateralism threaten to be eroded. While the effects of RTAs to date in terms of trade discrimination appear to have been relatively benign, the process has been systemically harmful. This is illustrated most prominently by the post 2008 mega-regionals, which aim not just to manage trade relations between their members, but to control or circumvent the multilateral discussion of trade policy by creating coalitions of countries that can, more or less, dictate terms to other players.

Keywords: Regionalism; trade agreements; WTO; multilateral cooperation; China

Suggested Citation

Winters, L. Alan Alan, The WTO and Regional Trading Agreements: Is it All Over for Multilateralism? (December 2015). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2015/94, Available at SSRN: or

L. Alan Alan Winters (Contact Author)

University of Sussex ( email )

Sussex House
Brighton, Sussex BNI 9RH
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

United Kingdom

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