Trade Coordination in Free Trade Agreements and Customs Unions

Journal of Korea Trade Vol. 23, No. 3, May 2019, 84-104

21 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2019

Date Written: May 20, 2019


Purpose – This paper explains why free trade agreements (FTAs) are more popular than customs unions (CUs) in respect of tariff coordination.

Design/methodology – This paper employs an equilibrium theory of trade agreements with tariff coordination. I set up three-country partial equilibrium model with competing exporters. Domestic and exporting firms decide their optimal production under given tariffs and each country levies its tariff under the trade agreements. I found stability of implicit tariff coordination and preference of each country between an FTA and a CU.

Findings – I demonstrate that two FTA members can keep their external tariffs higher than separately decided external tariffs by keeping the status-quo. This implicit tariff coordination can benefit each member through trade diversion. In a CU, each member country must have a common optimal external tariff and it must incur costs because each country may seek different external tariffs for their own national welfare. The benefit of implicit coordination in an FTA and the cost of explicit coordination in a CU account for the popularity of the FTA.

Originality/value – This paper uses the idea of implicit tariff coordination in trade agreements. In a CU, tariff coordination is explicit and mandatory. All member countries must have a single common external tariff for each good. On the other hand, in an FTA, each country establishes its external tariff with the goal of maximizing its own welfare. However, each country can also coordinate “implicitly” by keeping the status-quo after establishing an FTA.

Keywords: Customs Union, Free Trade Agreement, Trade Liberalization

JEL Classification: F12, F13, F15

Suggested Citation

Nahm, Sihoon, Trade Coordination in Free Trade Agreements and Customs Unions (May 20, 2019). Journal of Korea Trade Vol. 23, No. 3, May 2019, 84-104, Available at SSRN:

Sihoon Nahm (Contact Author)

Myongji University ( email )

50-3 Namgajwadong
Seoul, 120-728

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