Meanwhile, preferential trade agreements (EPAs) refer to unilateral trade privileges such as the Generalized Preference System (GSP) and non-reciprocal preferential programmes implemented by some WTO members for products from developing and least developed countries. Information on preferential trade regimes notified to the WTO is available in the PTA database. In the century following the Second World War, non-discrimination and multilateralism were the pillars of the rules-based international trading system. However, from the early 1990s on, the number of regional and bilateral trade agreements in force increased more than tenfold, from less than 20 years to 279 in 2017. Moreover, the qualitative nature of these agreements has changed, starting with the fact that the United States has renounced its strong support for multilateralism and has rallied to the trend. Subsequently, the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution has led to increasing fragmentation of trade and the continued globalization of supply chains, which has posed many new problems that trade negotiators are struggling to address. These “deep integration agreements” aim to go beyond WTO rules, open services markets and protect intellectual property and foreign investment, and negotiate issues that have not yet been addressed in the WTO, such as competition policy, digital trade, regulatory cooperation, labour standards and environmental protection. The 2011 WTO Report on World Trade shows that previous issues, known as the WTO, are increasingly being used in the ATR and are often applicable. ATRs increasingly include WTO-class issues, often referred to as WTO X, but are more often hortatory and focus on cooperation rather than being legally applicable. 30 These agreements have increased in number and complexity since the early 1990s.

One of the most frequently asked questions is whether these regional groups support or hinder the multilateral trading system of WTOs. WTO members, who work on various committees, are working to address these concerns. Rather, Richard Baldwin argues that the 21st century trading system must be a two-pillar system, adopting multilateral and regional/plurilateral approaches in order to function smoothly. The WTO would continue to focus on flat integration – continue to monitor, enforce and further liberalise rules on traditional barriers to trade – while mega-regionals or other multi-laterals (such as negotiations on a new trade in services agreement) address deep integration issues that are important to global value chains. 33 The WTO would continue to play a role in promoting transparency and assessing the impact of ATRs to ensure that they minimize the negative effects. In addition, the increase in RTA has come to an end to the overlapping phenomenon of membership. This can hinder trade flows when traders struggle to meet multiple sets of trade rules. As the scope of the ATR extends to areas of action that are not regulated multilaterally, the risk of inconsistencies between the various agreements may be increased. Most of the previous ATRs involved tariff liberalization and related rules, such as trade defence, standards and rules of origin. Increasingly, ATRs have adopted the liberalization of services as well as obligations on service rules, investment, competition, intellectual property rights, e-commerce, environment and work. This could result in regulatory confusion and implementation problems. 8 Pellens, Sabine, development communities at the WTO.

The internal legal orders of communities of regional integration between developing countries and their status in World Trade Organization law, 1st edn (Berlin: Duncker and Humblot, 2008) CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 177f, 221f, was the first to explicitly propose this thesis.