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Sanoussi Bilal, “Trade blocs”, in R. Jones ed., Routledge Encyclopedia of International Political Economy, Routledge, forthcoming (2001).

Trade blocs 1.Definition and examples A trade bloc can be defined as a ‘preferential trade agreement’ (PTA) between a subset of countries, designed to significantly reduce or remove trade barriers within member countries. When a trade bloc comprises neighbouring or geographically close countries, it is referred to as a ‘regional trade (or integration) agreement’. It is sometimes also referred to as a ‘natural’ trade bloc to underline that the preferential trade is between countries that have presumably low transport costs or trade intensively with one another. The two principal characteristics of a trade bloc are that: (1) it implies a reduction or elimination of barriers to trade, and (2) this trade liberalisation is discriminatory, in the sense that it applies only to the member countries of the trade bloc, outside countries being discriminated against in their trade relations with trade bloc members. Though few, there exist as well regionial integration agreements in which co-operation rather than preferential market access is emphasised. Trade blocs can also entail deeper forms of integration, for instance of international competition, investment, labour and capital markets (including movements of factors of production), monetary policy, etc. The integration of countries into trade blocs is commonly referred to as ‘regionalism’, irrespective of whether the trade bloc has a geographical basis or not. The first waves of PTAs appeared in the 1930s leading to a fragmentation of the world into trade blocs. This ‘old (first) regionalism’ is also associated with regional initiatives involving developing countries in the 1950s and 1960s.1 Based on the objective of import-substitution industrialisation, the rationale was that developing countries could reap the benefit from economies of scale by opening up their trade preferentially among themselves, hence reducing the cost of their individual import-substitution strategy while the trade bloc became more self-sufficient. More successful experiences followed with the recent proliferation of trade blocs, the so-called ‘new (second) regionalism’, which involve mostly countries from the North with the South (the North-South trade blocs). The main trade blocs in the world are: (1) in Europe, the European Union (EU), the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA), the European Agreements, and the European Economic Area (EEA); (2) with the United States, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (CUSTA), and the USIsrael Free Trade Agreement; (3) in Latin America, the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), the Central American Common Market (CACM), the Andean Pact, the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA), and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM); in Sub-Saharan Africa, Communauté Economique de l’Afrique Occidentale (CEAO)/Union Economique et Monétaire de l’Afrique Occidentale (UEMOA), Union Douanière et Economique d’Afrique Centrale (UDEAC), the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)/Preferential Trade Area for Eastern

Bhagwati and Panagariya (1996).

and the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (ANZCERTA). the Adean Group. Not only concessions can be more easily exchanged among a small number of countries. but effective enforcement mechanisms can also be agreed upon at a lower cost. PTAs also allow trading partners to go deeper and faster in their liberalisation process. the larger the number of issues on which it is possible to reach an agreement. 1951) and the European Economic Community (EEC. and almost every country in Europe. whereas ASEAN seems to be so far a rather ineffective grouping. the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). MERCOSUR. the US-Israel FTA. Political and economic considerations also played a major role. to insulate a region from the world economy and to stabilise and foster the economy at a regional level. the fewer the number of participants to trade negotiations. Preferential integration agreements can also entail elements beyond standard trade policy concerns. CACM. The length and difficulties encountered during the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations (1986-1994) is usually considered to have contributed to increase the attractiveness of the regional (i. more complex and less transparent than standard tariffs and quotas traditionally considered under GATT Rounds. focusing on the trend in intrabloc trade intensities and shares. the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) and the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). such as competition. The so-called ‘old regionalism’ was motivated by the desire to pursue in developing countries importsubstitution development at a regional level. addressing modern trade barriers which are more varied. labour and capital market considerations. The causes of trade bloc formation Several reasons explain the recent emergence of trade blocs. For instance. CEAO/UEMOA and SACU can be considered as effective trade blocs (which does not mean that they are efficient). Indeed.2 2. In other words. It is easier to negotiate with few partners than with a large number of participants in the multilateral process as envisaged under the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT)/World Trade Organization (WTO). . 1957). investments.3 Recognising the gains from liberalisation.and Southern African States (PTA). not all PTAs are effective at liberalising intra-bloc trade. as in the case of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC. While there is a proliferation of PTAs in the world. Baldwin (1997). preferential) path to trade liberalisation. and (4) in Asia. it is often argued that concluding a PTA is politically easier than pursuing multilateral trade liberalisation agreements. The recent emergence of trade blocs (the so-called ‘new regionalism’) has been explained by various factors.e. trade 2 3 Foroutan (1998). Another claimed advantage of PTAs is that they may help ensuring the credibility of the reform process undertaken by one or several members of the trade bloc. in Latin America and in Sub-Saharan Africa belongs to at least one PTA. it appears that NAFTA.

such as political stability. A standard result of international trade theory is that. in a competitive environment and in the absence of market distortions and externalities. (2) a customs union (CU). but where each member remains responsible for the determination of its trade policy vis-à-vis non-member countries. taking into account transport costs and trade barriers) between them. or as a response to third-country security threats. and (3) a common market. the deepening of an existing bloc or the creation of a new one may cause excluded trading partners to join the PTA in order to reduce the costs of being “left out”: the so-called ‘domino effect’ of regionalism. prices) and on the level of protection (generally tariffs) for PTA members and excluded countries. PTAs can serve as commitment. that the volume of trade between two countries is negatively related to the economic distance (i. Moreover.). on the terms of trade (i. .4 Trade blocs may exert other types of ‘pressures for inclusion’. In analysing the welfare effects of a PTA. (2) the trade bloc as a whole and (3) the countries excluded from the trade bloc. geographic distance. among other things.e.6 3. or security threats between partner countries). which entails a CU with deeper integration between its members (such as free movements of goods. etc. Most of the analyses on the effects of trade blocs focus on FTAs and/or CUs. The gravity model suggests that countries geographically close trade more than distant countries. democratic development or security issues (either domestic security.e. they are more likely to form a trade bloc. the gravity equation predicts. trade blocs may serve to pursue non-economic objectives. hence contributing to reducing uncertainty and increasing credibility about political and economic developments. free trade will maximise global 4 5 Fernandez and Portes (1998). with liberalised intra-bloc trade. The different types of trade blocs (or PTAs) can be broadly distinguished in three categories: (1) a free trade agreement (FTA) where trade barriers among member countries are removed. More generally. The effects of a PTA are of two types: the trade effects and the welfare effects. Namely. As neighbouring countries tend to be ‘natural trading partners’. as well as the adoption of a external tariff structure and trade barriers towards outsiders common to all members of the CU. services and factors of production. or objectives beyond the immediate economic concerns of a PTA. Baldwin (1995). The trade effects comprise the impact of a PTA on the volume and quantity of trade. The effects of trade blocs Discriminatory trade policy is the defining characteristic of a trade bloc. signalling and insurance mechanisms in the policy determination of its members. common economic policies. 6 Schiff and Winters (1997).blocs often involve (small) reform-minded countries willing to bind their commitments to (often unilateral) liberalisation process by entering a PTA with larger entities. it is important to distinguish between the impact of trade bloc (formation and expansion) on the welfare of (1) each of its member.5 Finally. as trade bloc formation diverts trade at the expense of non-member countries.

i.9 Another important element in assessing the trade impact of a PTA are the price. the members of a trade bloc can extract rents from the excluded trading partners by setting ‘optimal tariffs’ and behaving in a co-ordinated strategic way. comparative advantages) of the member countries. the ‘theory of second best’ points out that removing a distortion while others remain in place may not increase welfare. Soloaga and Winters (1999) found no empirical evidence of significant trade creation during the 1990s for major trade blocs. or ‘terms of trade’. In particular. trade diversion and optimal tariffs increase as the world integrates in a smaller number of expanding trading blocs. 10 Mundell (1964).e. a move in the right direction. it is expected that.8 Most of the debate on the static impacts of trade blocs on the global economy rests on the theoretical and empirical evaluations of whether a PTA is more trade-creating or trade-diverting. according to which trade between countries depends on their size and on transaction costs (including distance). the welfare implications of a trade bloc are ambiguous as they depend on many factors. trade blocs allow member countries to exploit their joint market power over their terms of trade. Removing trade barriers between a subset of countries could therefore appear to be. world prices will be affected as the demand for (and thus the price of) non-member exports decreases. Such considerations also led to some predictions with regards the dynamics of trade blocs.10 Hence. as well as other market imperfections. Hence. 8 7 . and a clear indication of trade diversion only in the case of the EU and EFTA. 9 Taking into account the gravity model.12 the welfare Lipsey and Lancaster (1956). If the PTA is not economically small. while another distortion is created in the form of a discrimination between members and non-members (the latter facing trade barriers from the PTA).7 Trade blocs are examples of second best since a distortion is removed.welfare. effects of a trade bloc. The demonstration of the theory of second best situation entailed by a PTA was derived from the seminal work of Jacob Viner (1950). Meade (1955) and Lipsey (1957). as intra-bloc trade is liberalised while extra-bloc trade is not. PTA members buy more from each other (trade creation) and less from third countries. which shows that while liberalising trade between a group of countries can lead to ‘trade creation’ between members (which should increase welfare). This ‘trade diversion’ can potentially reduce welfare for all as a member switches from a relatively efficient. This capacity to influence its terms of trade is an important element in the analysis of the trade policy determination and welfare effects of a PTA. creating a positive terms of trade effect for PTA members and a likely deterioration of the terms of trade for third countries. trade barriers between member countries. higher cost producer within the CU. Yet.11 Although the level of optimal tariffs with expanding trade blocs depends on the factor endowments (i. leading to a global misallocation of resources. Due to their increased market power. it can also reduce trade between the CU and its trading partners. if countries are symmetric. a priori. Again. low cost producer outside the CU to less efficient. 12 Bond and Syropoulos (1996). 11 Krugman (1991a).e.

Stein and Wei (1995).13 Ultimately. and on the other hand on the potential negative welfare impacts resulting from trade diversion and adverse changes in the terms of trade. as suggested by the gravity model. the main lesson from the new theory of regionalism is that there are no strict rules and generalisations are dangerous. a larger market resulting from the creation and extension of trade blocs does not only increase the market power of its members. as small countries will derive relatively larger economic advantages from gaining access to the potentially large market of the bloc. the optimal number of trade blocs in the world depends on the one hand on the potential positive welfare effects resulting from trade creation. Besides. Krugman (1991b) and Frankel. or associate trade blocs with CUs. it is tempting to conclude that CUs are superior to FTAs as the former generate less trade diversion. The fact that countries geographically close trade more together. but it also provides opportunities for greater productivity efficiency for industries facing economies of scale and increased competition within the PTA market. This in turn may contribute to reduce distortions within the trade bloc. For instance.losses associated to trade bloc formation and expansions seem to be due more to trade diversion than to potential increases in optimal tariffs. 15 Panagariya (1998). Yet.15 Finally.16 However. and (3) have a regional basis (since geographic proximity favours trade). although the notion of ‘natural trade blocs’ (based on lower transport costs associated to regional trade) is common. it is worth noting that small countries could benefit more from joining a PTA than larger countries. (2) involve countries at similar stages of development (generating intra-industry trade). 4. nor that trade barriers with distant trading partners is desirable. Focusing on the rules of origin requirements in a FTA. Since trade blocs are more likely to have a positive impact on welfare if they are more trade-creating and less trade-diverting. 16 Krueger (1997).14 it is doubtful that transport costs considerations provide a justification (over other types of costs) for the desirability or superiority of regional trade blocs over non-regional blocs. is crucial to determine the trade and welfare impacts of a grouping of countries. namely a FTA or a CU. FTAs could be considered as more desirable on welfare grounds than CUs. when considering the strategic interaction between members and non-members and their potential market power. while most analyses on trade blocs either consider PTAs in general. it is sometimes argued that welfare improving PTAs are likely to be those which (1) are large (stimulating intra-bloc trade). the distinction between the forms taken by the PTA. . in particular if the trade bloc is initially formed by large members. In this respect. as the impacts on trade and welfare of PTAs crucially depend on the model adopted. Regionalism versus Multilateralism 13 14 Krugman (1993). does not imply that their welfare will improve by forming a trade bloc.

and more generally economic reforms. This can delay or prevent further adjustments of trade patterns in the case of global liberalisation. The proponents of the regionalism path towards multilateral liberalisation emphasise the benefits of trade creation over the problems associated with trade diversion.19 This is more likely to be the case as a PTA is trade diverting. as the former becomes an alternative to the latter. 20 Grossman and Helpman (1995). or creates ‘hysterisis’ in trade. . is particularly important in developing countries where regional commitments can facilitate the integration of these economies into an increasingly sophisticated multilateral trading system. Moreover. First. For instance. which not only negatively affects excluded countries. Besides.18 Yet.20 17 18 Winters (1999) provides a survey of the literature. but could also antagonise them. rendering multinational negotiations more difficult. and consequently reduce the incentive of PTA members to pursue the multilateral path to trade liberalisation. then regionalism will undermine the multilateral system. are PTAs ‘stumbling blocks’ or ‘building blocks’ towards a more liberal multilateral trade system? The answer rests on the analysis of the dynamic time-path effects of trade blocs. The ‘endogenous trade bloc’ theory suggests that the answer to whether trade blocs help or hamper multilateral efforts and trade liberalisation rests on the institutional characteristics of a PTA and the incentives for specific interests to influence the policy process. and not simply on the (static) immediate impact of a PTA. 19 Levy (1997). regionalism may divert the attention of countries away from the multilateral system. more insight has been gained on the dynamic effects of PTAs from the political economy approach which emphasises the role of interest groups lobbying in the determination of trade policy. Recently. regionalism helps creating a momentum for global trade liberalisation initiated by intra-bloc liberalisation.17 In other words. because of their discriminatory nature. As such. another school of thought expresses serious concerns about the compatibility of trade blocs with the pursuit of multilateral liberalisation. the trade structure of a country joining a PTA can be altered in the long run. PTAs generate trade diversion. if (intra-) trade liberalisation generates ‘sunk costs’ (for instance associated with the setting of a distribution network). The latter depend in turn on the gains and losses incurred by lobby groups and the ability to co-ordinate their efforts. Krishna (1998). Ethier (1998). This internal dynamic of trade liberalisation. if the main agents within a trade bloc obtain disproportionately large gains from preferential integration over multilateral liberalisation. They argue that PTAs support the integration of groups of countries into the international economy as they highlight the benefits from freer trade.The ambiguity on the static impacts of trade blocs led to the current debate on whether the new wave of regionalism pauses a threat to the multilateral liberalisation process (because of the discriminatory nature of PTAs) or on the contrary is compatible with and even complementary to further global trade liberalisation (as a stepping stone towards free trade).

Moreover. trade blocs can also be regarded as an endogenous response to the multilateral May 2000 21 Cadot. On the other hand.bilal@eipa-nl. an FTA can help provide compensations to the losers from the removal of trade barriers within the FTA by reducing or maintaining external protection selectively. political and institutional concerns beyond the scope of the multilateral trade system. de Melo and Olarreaga (1998). In that sense. hence diluting domestic protectionist pressures. trade blocs can contribute to internalise global externalities and foster the adoption of co-ordination mechanisms among countries that may facilitate the multilateral process toward global trade liberalisation. . Hence. reducing the chances for multilateral liberalisation (generally supported by the export sector). an FTA could be complementary to multilateralism.21 Finally. with the view to complement multilateral liberalisation and address economic. Sanoussi Bilal s. excluded countries which experience a decrease in their exports because of the trade diverting effect of a PTA can be tempted to resort to protectionism as the relative size of their (lobbying) import-competing sector increases.

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