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Trade Preferential Agreements in Latin America: An Ex-Ante Assessment

60 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016  

Michael Michaely

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Date Written: March 1996


As a rule, preferential trade agreements between countries in Latin America and the Caribbean will probably be far less meaningful than they are in Europe or even than they are in the Asia-Pacific region. But most Latin American countries would benefit from such an agreement with the United States. In the past decade a sea change has taken place in trade policies in Latin America: Within a few years, most of the region's economies have changed from restrictive to open policies. But unlike trade liberalization in Europe, most trade barriers in Latin America have been reduced unilaterally. Recently bilateral or multilateral agreements have been considered, especially preferential trade agreements within the region.

Michaely evaluates the relevance and desirability of multilateral free trade agreements (such as NAFTA) for the Latin American continent and the Caribbean, with an emphasis on how they affect trade flows. Is a preferential trade agreement among some Latin American countries more or less likely to be meaningful than others - important in intensity of impact, or beneficial, or both? The evidence strongly suggests little likelihood that these agreements will succeed in Latin America. Paradoxically, the intense liberalization in recent years has made it less likely that such agreements would be beneficial - except possibly for agreements between some countries and Brazil, Mexico, or (to a lesser extent) Argentina.

When the level of tariffs and nontariff barriers is already low, a preferential agreement is more likely to have an adverse impact than a beneficial one (although in any case only a slight impact). Between countries, the patterns of exports and imports are similar, suggesting a potential for trade diversion. Most countries would benefit from a preferential trade agreement with the United States, however. And U.S. agreements with blocks of Latin American countries are no more beneficial to those countries than are U.S. agreements with individual countries.

This paper is a product of the Office of the Chief Economist, Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office. The study was funded by the Bank`s Research Support Budget under research project Trade Creation and Trade Diversion in Latin America (RPO 679-38).

Suggested Citation

Michaely, Michael, Trade Preferential Agreements in Latin America: An Ex-Ante Assessment (March 1996). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 1583. Available at SSRN:

Michael Michaely (Contact Author)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem ( email )

Mount Scopus
Jerusalem 91905, IL 91905

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