Trade Agreements: Bilateral and Multilateral Trade Agreements10th February 2020
A trade agreement (also known as trade pact) is a wide-ranging taxes, tariff and trade treaty that often includes investment guarantees. It exists when two or more countries agree on terms that helps them trade with each other. The most common trade agreements are of the preferential and free trade types are concluded in order to reduce (or eliminate) tariffs, quotas and other trade restrictions on items traded between the signatories.
The logic of formal trade agreements is that they outline what is agreed upon and the punishments for deviation from the rules set in the agreement. Trade agreements therefore make misunderstandings less likely, and create confidence on both sides that cheating will be punished; this increases the likelihood of long-term cooperation. An international organization, such as the IMF, can further incentivize cooperation by monitoring compliance with agreements and reporting third countries of the violations. Monitoring by international agencies may be needed to detect non-tariff barriers, which are disguised attempts at creating trade barriers.
Trade pacts are frequently politically contentious since they may change economic customs and deepen interdependence with trade partners. Increasing efficiency through “free trade” is a common goal. For the most part, governments are supportive of further trade agreements.
Bilateral trade is the exchange of goods between two nations promoting trade and investment. The two countries will reduce or eliminate tariffs, import quotas, export restraints, and other trade barriers to encourage trade and investment. In the United States, the Office of Bilateral Trade Affairs minimizes trade deficits through negotiating free trade agreements with new countries, supporting and improving existing trade agreements, promoting economic development abroad, and other actions.
Understanding Bilateral Trade
The goals of bilateral trade agreements are to expand access between two countries’ markets and increase their economic growth. Standardized business operations in five general areas prevent one country from stealing another’s innovative products, dumping goods at a small cost, or using unfair subsidies. Bilateral trade agreements standardize regulations, labor standards, and environmental protections.
The United States has signed bilateral trade agreements with 20 countries. It formed bilateral, free trade agreements with Israel (1985), Jordan (2001), Australia, Chile, Singapore (2004), Bahrain, Morocco, Oman (2006), Peru (2007), and with Panama, Colombia, South Korea (2012). The Dominican Republic – Central America FTR (CAFTA – DR) is a free trade agreement signed between the United States and smaller economies of Central America. These are El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. NAFTA replaced the bilateral agreements with Canada and Mexico in 1994.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Bilateral Trade
Compared to multilateral trade agreements, bilateral trade agreements are easily negotiated, because only two nations are party to the agreement. Bilateral trade agreements initiate and reap trade benefits faster than multilateral agreements. When negotiations for a multilateral trade agreement are unsuccessful, many nations will negotiate bilateral treaties instead. However, new agreements often result in competing agreements between other countries, eliminating the advantages the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) confers between the original two nations.
Bilateral trade agreements also expand the market for a country’s goods. The United States vigorously pursued free trade agreements with a number of countries under the Bush administration during the early 2000s. In addition to creating a market for US goods, the expansion help spread the mantra of trade liberalization and encouraged open borders for trade. However, bilateral trade agreements can skew a country’s markets when large multinational corporations, which have significant capital and resources to operate at scale, enter a market dominated by smaller players. As a result, the latter might need to close shop when they are competed out of existence.
Examples of Bilateral Trade
In October 2014, the United States and Brazil settled a longstanding cotton dispute in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Brazil terminated the case, relinquishing its rights to countermeasures against U.S. trade or further proceedings in the dispute. Brazil also agreed to not bring new WTO actions against U.S. cotton support programs while the current U.S. Farm Bill is in force, or against agricultural export credit guarantees under the GSM-102 program. Because of the agreement, American businesses are no longer subject to countermeasures such as increased tariffs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
In March 2016, the U.S. government and the government of Peru reached an agreement removing barriers for U.S. beef exports to Peru that had been in effect since 2003. The agreement opened one of the fastest-growing markets in Latin America. In 2015, the United States exported $25.4 million in beef and beef products to Peru. Removal of Peru’s certification requirements, known as the export verification program, assured American ranchers expanded market access.
The agreement reflects the U.S. negligible risk classification for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The United States and Peru agreed to amendments in certification statements making beef and beef products from federally inspected U.S. establishments eligible for export to Peru, rather than just beef and beef products from establishments participating in the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Export Verification (EV) programs under previous certification requirements.
Multilateral Trade Agreements
Multilateral trade agreements are treaties created between three or more nations looking to trade with each other. Trade agreements have exploded in the last 70 years as nations realized that international trade is critical to domestic health. When trade agreements are created between multiple countries, there are upsides and downsides.
Features of Multilateral Trade
- Multilateral agreements mean parties negotiate on more even ground, and they’re also more likely to make concessions for the “good of all” as opposed to the bilateral negotiation that can be done from a defensive stance as countries try to get the best deal for themselves.
- Multilateral trade tends to benefit growing economies, like how trade exploded for Mexico after NAFTA took effect in 1993. It led to trade growing between the nations by over 300 percent in the next 25 years. American companies benefitted from NAFTA, too, with many moving factories south; American jobs, some would say, were the losers in the deal.
- Companies love multilateral agreements because it means the trading regulations will be the same for each country behind the pact, simplifying the bureaucracy for businesses — but also potentially giving them new markets to access while keeping their legal costs low.
- Unfortunately, the many partners of multilateral trade agreements mean the treaties are complex and often misunderstood by the public. Part of this is because of concessions countries make during such large deals, which makes the average voter think their country’s coming up empty on the deal.
- Plus, small businesses often lose out with multilateral trade agreements, since it’s multinational companies who are most likely to profit, thanks to already operating in those regions. It can lead to small and mid-sized businesses having to move operations to new countries and make other big changes just to stay competitive. If their business suffers, it can cause job losses or force businesses to close altogether, making multilateral agreements somewhat unpopular.