Trade bloc

A trade bloc is a type of intergovernmental agreement, often part of a regional intergovernmental organization, where barriers to trade (tariffs and others) are reduced or eliminated among the participating states.

Trade blocs can be stand-alone agreements between several states (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement) or part of a regional organization (such as the European Union). Depending on the level of economic integration, trade blocs can be classified as preferential trading areas, free-trade areas, customs unions, common markets, or economic and monetary unions.[1]

Lists of trade blocs


Historic trading blocs include the Hanseatic League, a Northern European economic alliance between the 12th and 17th centuries, and the German Customs Union, formed on the basis of the German Confederation and subsequently the German Empire from 1871. Surges of trade bloc formation occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in the 1990s after the collapse of Communism. By 1997, more than 50% of all world commerce was conducted within regional trade blocs.[2] Economist Jeffrey J. Schott of the Peterson Institute for International Economics notes that members of successful trade blocs usually share four common traits: similar levels of per capita GNP, geographic proximity, similar or compatible trading regimes, and political commitment to regional organization.[3]

Many advocates of global free trade are opposed to trading blocs. Trade blocs are seen by them to encourage regional free trade at the expense of global free trade.[4] Those who advocate for it claim that global free trade is in the interest of every country, as it would create more opportunities to turn local resources into goods and services that are both currently in demand and will be in demand in the future by consumers.[5] However, scholars and economists continue to debate whether regional trade blocs fragment the global economy or encourage the extension of the existing global multilateral trading system.[6][7]


A common market is seen as a stage of economic integration towards an economic union[8] or possibly towards the goal of a unified market.

A single market is a type of trade bloc in which most trade barriers (for goods) have been removed

Advantages and disadvantages


  • Competition: Trade blocs force the manufacturers in participating countries to compete with each other. Increased competition creates pressures for greater efficiency within firms, which results in lower prices for consumers. Home producers have to work with greater efficiency to ensure survival of their goods against the low price imported goods since tariffs are removed. Overseas producers tend to increase their production of goods as they realize that the low price goods that they produce have a better chance of competing with home-produced goods in the market.
  • Economies of scale: The larger markets created by trade blocs permit companies to take advantage of economies of scale. Since the average cost of each good produced tends to fall as production increases, this results in lower prices for consumers.
  • Improved Market Efficiency: Increased competition and the removal of tariffs, which may act as a price floor, drive down prices and allow for increased consumption. This reduces deadweight loss and hence improves market efficiency.
  • Increased foreign direct investment: An increase in foreign direct investment may result from the creation of trade blocs. This can benefit the economies of participating nations by creating jobs in new or expanded businesses.
  • Trade Effects: Trade blocs eliminate tariffs, which drives down the cost of imports. As a result, consumers can save money by buying imported goods when cheaper than locally produced onesthey can then spend those savings on other goods. Reducing the cost of imports also reduces the cost of locally produced goods that use imported parts or components.


  • Concessions: No country wants to let foreign firms gain domestic market share at the expense of local companies without getting something in return. Any country that wants to join a trading bloc must be prepared to make concessions. For example, in trading blocs that involve developed and developing countries, such as bilateral agreements between the U.S. or the EU and relatively poor Asian, Latin American or African countries, the latter may have to allow multinational corporations to enter their home markets, hurting the business of some local firms.
  • Interdependence: Because trading blocs increase trade among participating countries, those countries become increasingly dependent on each other. A disruption of trade within a trading bloc as a result of a natural disaster, conflict or revolution may have severe consequences for the economies of all participating countries.
  • Loss of Sovereignty: A trading bloc, particularly when it is coupled with a political goal, is likely to lead to at least partial loss of sovereignty for its participants. For example, the European Union, started as a trading bloc in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome, has transformed itself into a far-reaching political organization that deals not only with trade matters, but also with human rights, consumer protection, greenhouse gas emissions and other issues which are only marginally related.
  • Regionalism vs. Multinationalism: Trading blocs inherently favor their participating countries. For example, among NAFTA partners, the United States, Canada and Mexico, trade has risen to more than 80 percent of Mexican and Canadian trade and more than a third of U.S. trade, according to a 2009 report by the Council on Foreign Relations. However, regional economies establish tariffs and quotas that protect intra-regional trade from outside forces, according to the University of California Atlas of Global Inequality. Rather than pursuing a global trading regime within the World Trade Organization, which includes the majority of the world's countries, regional trade bloc countries contribute to regionalism rather than global integration.


Trade bloc Population Gross domestic product (USD) Members
2006 2007 growth per capita
Economic and monetary unions
EMU 324,879,19510,685,946,928,31012,225,304,229,68614.41%37,630
OECS 593,9053,752,679,5623,998,281,7316.54%6,732
OII 504,47612,264,278,32914,165,953,20015.51%28,081
CCCM 6,418,41739,616,485,62343,967,600,76510.98%6,850
EEA 499,620,52114,924,076,504,59217,186,876,431,70915.16%34,400
Customs and monetary unions
CEMAC 39,278,64551,265,460,68558,519,380,75514.15%1,490
UEMOA 90,299,94550,395,629,49458,453,871,28315.99%647
Customs unions
CAN 96,924,486281,269,141,372334,172,968,64818.81%3,448
EAC 127,107,83849,882,030,44361,345,180,04122.98%483
EUCU 574,602,74515,331,827,900,20217,679,376,474,71915.31%30,768
GCC 36,154,528724,460,151,595802,641,302,47710.79%22,200
MERCOSUR 271,304,9461,517,510,000,0001,886,817,000,00012.44%9,757
SACU 58,000,0001,499,811,549,1871,848,337,158,28123.24%6,885
Preferential trade areas and Free trade areas
AANZFTA-ASEAN+3 2,085,858,84110,216,029,899,76411,323,947,181,80410.84%5,429
ALADI 499,807,6622,823,198,095,1313,292,088,771,48016.61%6,587
AFTZ 553,915,405643,541,709,413739,927,625,27314.98%1,336
APTA 2,714,464,0274,868,614,302,7445,828,692,637,76419.72%2,147
CARIFORUM-EUCU-OCTs 592,083,95015,437,771,092,52217,798,283,524,96115.29%30,060
CACM 37,388,06387,209,524,88997,718,800,79412.05%2,614
CEFTA 27,968,711110,263,802,023135,404,501,03122.80%4,841
CISFTA 272,897,8341,271,909,586,0181,661,429,920,72130.62%6,088
DR-CAFTA-US 356,964,47713,345,469,865,03714,008,686,684,0894.97%39,244
ECOWAS 283,096,250215,999,071,943255,784,634,12818.42%904
EFTA-SACU 68,199,9911,021,509,931,9181,139,385,636,88811.54%16,707
EAEC 207,033,9901,125,634,333,1171,465,256,182,49830.17%7,077
NAFTA 449,227,67215,337,094,304,21816,189,097,801,3185.56%36,038
TPP 25,639,622401,810,366,865468,101,167,29416.50%18,257
SAARC 1,567,187,3731,162,684,650,5441,428,392,756,31222.85%911
SPARTECA 35,079,659918,557,785,0311,102,745,750,17220.05%31,435
Pacific Alliance 218,649,1151,371,197,216,1401,525,825,175,04511.28%6,978

This list is based on the data obtained from  United Nations Statistics Division.

Comparison between regional trade blocs

Regional blocFree Trade AreaEconomic and monetary unionFree TravelPolitical pactDefence pactOther
Customs UnionSingle MarketCurrency UnionVisa-freeBorder-less
EU in force in force7 in force2 in force 1 in force in force
(Schengen 1, 7, NPU and CTA 1)
in force in force
(NATO 1, 7 and CFSP/ESDP 1)
ESA 1, 7
EFTA in force in force2, 7 in force in force 1, 7 in force 1, 7 ESA 1, 7
CARICOM in force in force in force 1 in force 1 and
proposed common
in force 1 proposed proposed NWFZ
AU ECOWAS in force 1, 3 in force 1 proposed[9][10] in force 1 and
proposed for 2012 1 and
proposed common
in force 1 proposed proposed in force NWFZ1
ECCAS in force1 in force1 proposed in force1 in force in force NWFZ1
EAC in force in force proposed for 2020s proposed for 2024 proposed ? proposed for 2023 NWFZ1
SADC in force1 in force1 proposed for 2015 de facto in force 1 and proposed common for 2016 proposed[11] NWFZ1
COMESA in force1 proposed for 2010 ? proposed for 2018 NWFZ1
Common in force1 proposed for 2019 proposed for 2023 proposed for 2028 proposed for 2028 NWFZ1
Pacific Alliance in force in force NWFZ
USAN MERCOSUR in force in force proposed for 2015[12] in force proposed for 2014[13] NWFZ
CAN in force in force 1 proposed1[14] in force NWFZ
Common proposed for 2014 4 proposed for not after 2019 proposed for 2019 proposed for 2019 in force[15] proposed for 2019 proposed in force NWFZ
EEU in force in force1 in force Proposed[16] in force[17] in force 1
AL GCC in force in force[18] proposed proposed 1 in force in force
Common in force1 proposed for 2015 proposed for 2020 proposed proposed[19]
ASEAN in force 5 proposed for 2015[20] proposed 8[21] in force[22] proposed for 2015[23] proposed for 2020[24] NWFZ
CAIS in force1 proposed ? in force1 in force1 proposed NWFZ
CEFTA in force RCC7
NAFTA in force in force 1, 7
SAARC in force 1, 6 proposed proposed in force9
PIF proposed for 20211 NWFZ1

1 not all members participating yet
2 involving goods, services, telecommunications, transport (full liberalisation of railways from 2012), energy (full liberalisation from 2007)
3 telecommunications, transport and energy - proposed
4 sensitive goods to be covered from 2019
5 least developed members to join from 2012
6 least developed members to join from 2017
7 Additionally some non member states also participate (the European Union, EFTA and NATO have overlapping membership and various common initiatives regarding the European integration).
8 Additionally some non member states also participate (ASEAN Plus Three)
9 Limited to "entitled persons" and duration of one year.

See also

Further reading

Does Economic Integration Cause Foreign Direct Investment?

Massimo Motta and George Norman

Vol. 37, No. 4 (Nov., 1996), pp. 757-783

Published by: Wiley for the Economics Department of the University of Pennsylvania and Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University

DOI: 10.2307/2527310


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  2. Milner 2002, 450.
  3. Schott 1991, 2.
  4. O'Loughlin and Anselin 1996, 136.
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  7. Mansfield and Milner 2005, 330.
  8. Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  10. "WT/COMTD/N/21". Archived from the original on 2009-03-27.
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  13. "Definidos critérios para o Parlamento do Mercosul". Senado Federal – Notícias. February 3, 2007.
  14. Twelfth Andean Presidential Council Act of Lima Archived 2010-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  15. "?". CNN. February 3, 2007.
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  17. Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  18. "GCC customs union fully operational". The Peninsula. 2016-08-13. Archived from the original on 18 January 2015. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  19. Yemen Proposes Replacing Arab League With Arab Union, Agence France-Presse, 11 February 2004
  20. "Asean Trade Mins Meet To Speed Up Plans For Single Market". Malaysia Dual Lingual Business News. February 3, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28.
  21. "Envisioning a single Asian currency". International Herald Tribune. February 3, 2007.
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