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In recent years, the central question relating to regional trade agreements has been whether or not they have led to a new form of economic cooperation by promoting deeper integration in the regulatory structures of the participating countries. The answer to this question has profound implications for the future of multilateral cooperation through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and international economic relations generally. Regionalism, Multilateralism, and Economic Integration examines a number of very different regional agreements and finds that there is no one model for what constitutes deeper integration. Each of the agreements under review is the result of an attempt to achieve very different policy objectives. The result is that any assessment of the success or otherwise of a regional agreement should be made in the light of the objectives of the agreement concerned. At the same time, however, each of the agreements can be evaluated in terms of whether they contribute positively or negatively to the goals of the rules based multilateral trading system or otherwise.
The authors conclude that regional trade agreements have indeed led to deeper integration in a number of fields, and that the regional processes and rules have been consistent with the multilateral obligations of the parties to the agreements. They find that recent agreements are generally more effective in facilitating trade and improving transparency than the more remote WTO procedures. Most agreements restate the obligations of the parties to the World Trade Organization Agreements. In this sense, the WTO rules constitute a floor that underpins additional commitments in the regional agreements.