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The Rise of Bilateralism

Comparing American, European, and Asian Approaches to Preferential Trade Agreements

By Kenneth Heydon and Stephen Woolcock

As multilateral negotiations become increasingly complex and protracted, preferential trade agreements have become the centerpiece of trade diplomacy. Pushing beyond tariffs into deep integration and beyond regionalism into a web of bilateral deals, these agreements are raising concerns about coercion by bigger players.

This study examines American, European, and Asian approaches to preferential trade agreements and their effect on trade, investment, and economic welfare. The book draws on the rich field of theoretical works but also fills a gap in the literature by examining in detail the actual substance of agreements negotiated and envisaged.

With bilateralism in trade driven by foreign policy, environmental, and social concerns, as well as market access objectives, the key question is how the various negotiating forums interact. This volume argues that preferential agreements can complement the multilateral system—but only if that system is strong enough to continue to reduce barriers to trade and strengthen rules that limit the distorting effects of bilateralism.

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