Over the past few decades, regional trade agreements (RTAs) have proliferated in both number and reach, covering over half of international trade alongside multilateral negotiations under the WTO. Yet, this rise has been accompanied by a series of concerns, mostly related to the discriminatory effect of RTAs on non-parties as well as the potentially consequential trade diversion and overlapping regulatory requirements. The WTO has thus been challenged to develop a new approach to RTAs in an effort to profit from the beneficial opportunities offered by such agreements in promoting integration while advancing sustainable development. In so doing, a crucial first step consists in gaining a better understanding of the contents, dynamics, and experiences that can be drawn upon and from the RTAs themselves, given that data and knowledge on these agreements remain scattered across various fora and institutions. There is in fact no one single instrument bringing together information on RTAs on a regular basis, nor a platform where dialogue between relevant stakeholders can be built or synergies between RTAs and multilateral trading system established.
With a view to filling this gap, the RTA Exchange serves to curate and cultivate a web platform of actionable data, insight and idea-generation, and to convene purposeful multi-stakeholder dialogue on the interface between RTAs themselves as well as between the regional and multilateral levels, allowing for the sharing of ideas, experiences to date and best practices around a structured agenda and generating innovative research.
In collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ICTSD convenes through the RTA Exchange dialogue series a group of leading thinkers from around the world, representing a wide range of perspectives ranging from former policymakers, academics, trade practitioners, private sector and representatives of IGOs in order to examine the challenges and opportunities associated with the proliferation and consolidation of regional trade agreements for the global trade system. Consideration is also given to the implications of the increasingly wider and deeper policy coverage of these agreements as well as their effects on third-parties, with a view to proposing critical options to enhance coherence and inclusiveness among these agreements and the multilateral trade system.
In the context of these discussions, the RTA Exchange online platform developed by the IDB aims at fostering transparency and creating a level playing field for multiple stakeholders – from government, the private sector, NGOs and civil society – in terms of both accessing the collective international knowledge on RTAs and increasing immediate visibility of relevant information for developing countries lacking the capacity to gather and analyse such information. The platform features a comprehensive, interactive database of global RTAs and ongoing negotiations; curated, daily news articles from around the globe; monthly news digest synthesising and explaining the most recent developments; blogs providing original insights on the issue of RTAs; cutting-edge research and analysis from influential scholars and leading international organisations; and RTAs-related events happening worldwide.