Cotton processed at the Cañete-Mala Processing Plant owned by ANPAL (Nati: onal Association of Cotton Producers). Credit: Renato Guimarães/Oxfam
Why do they matter?

Learn more about Regional Trade Agreements

Trade negotiations between rich and poor countries have now shifted to regional and country-to-country trade agreements – generally known as Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs). 

RTAs are being negotiated between rich countries and poor countries, and deals are being pushed through at unreasonable pace and with unfair rules, leaving poor countries without the time or the space to develop the best trade policies for their people.

The US and the EU are pressing ahead with this piecemeal approach to trade. And without the advantage of  'strength in numbers’ that poor countries had at the WTO talks, they are now more likely to be pressed into accepting the unreasonable demands of rich countries.

What's wrong with Regional Trade Agreements?

Regional trade agreements between equal countries can be positive and beneficial to those countries involved. But it can all start to go wrong when deals take place between rich and poor economies. Unless the negotiations have poverty reduction at their heart, the stronger economy’s interests will always come out on top. Unfortunately, in many RTAs, rich countries use their greater bargaining strength to demand rights that they would never get at the WTO.

A regional free trade agreement removes all barriers to trade and foreign investment.  This means that poor economies are not allowed to use import tariffs to protect their growing industries or their agriculture workers in the way that rich countries have. Poor farmers are inevitably priced out of the market by cheap imports, and fledgling industries go under because they cannot compete with businesses from rich countries. It also means that poor countries must adopt new rules in areas like service provision, investment and intellectual property protection that constrain their ability to set national policies to meet their specific development needs. Consequently, regional free trade agreements between unequal partners do not help people in poor countries to work their way out of poverty.