Trade policy wonks are gathering in Geneva this week. Not for WTO negotiations, but for a conference on multilateralising regionalism. It launched yesterday morning and concludes Wednesday afternoon.
Multilateralising Regionalism is a two and a half day conference dedicated to exploring these issues, and in particular, the relationship between regionalism and the multilateral trading system. The first two days of the conference will explore how regional trade agreements might be tamed through a multilaterally based approach to redefining trade cooperation. The final half day will consist of a high-level discussion by policymakers and scholars of the issues teased out in the first part of the conference.
One might well ask what yet another conference on this subject can add. My answer to this is that I believe this conference is asking a number of questions that have not previously been addressed, notwithstanding the proliferation of scholarly literature.
We are not really asking here why so many regional agreements have sprung up — that question has dominated many a debate, and many interesting explanations have been offered. Rather, this conference looks forward and asks questions about how policymakers, traders and businesses think about, and react to, the explosion of regionalism…
A key idea underlying this conference is that the tangle of overlapping trade agreements will increasingly generate an interest in multilateralizing regional arrangements, in expanding them — or in other words, collapsing them into larger entities that bring us much closer to a multilateral system of trade arrangements. The question, then, is what forces and interests might push trade relations in a multilateralizing direction.
I covered Richard Baldwin’s paper on multilateralising regionalism back in July 2006.
UPDATE: The papers are available online now. That’s a lot of reading to do this weekend!