Number of reciprocal trade agreements and their contribution to world trade has grown over time

A chart showing the growth in bilateral/regional trade agrements and their prominence in global markets.

Countries use bilateral and regional trade agreements to increase market access and expand trade in foreign markets. These agreements are called reciprocal trade agreements (RTAs) because members grant special advantages to each other. RTAs include many types of agreements, such as preferential arrangements, free trade agreements, customs unions, and common markets, in which members agree to open their markets to each other's exports by lowering trade barriers. RTAs have become an increasingly prominent feature of the multilateral trading system in recent years. According to the World Trade Organization, there were 186 such agreements in force in 2005, up from 50 just prior to the Uruguay Round in 1994, less than 25 in 1985, and just 13 agreements in 1975. As the number of agreements expanded, the RTA share of world trade rose from 22 percent in 1975 to over 50 percent in 2005. This chart comes from Reciprocal Trade Agreements: Impacts on Bilateral Trade Expansion and Contraction in the World Agricultural Marketplace, ERR-113, April 2011.

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