Ancient Trade Agreements

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Today, the global trading network is well established, but it has taken several decades and several trade agreements to reach the current level of complexity, from the beginnings of the Silk Road to the creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the creation of the WTO, trade has played an important role in supporting economic development and promoting peaceful relations between nations. This page traces the history of trade, from its oldest roots to the present day. The 300 new agreements of recent years have been partly catalyzed by the fact that the current round of Doha wto negotiations has not been successful for more than 15 years. Note that WTO rules take into account bilateral and regional agreements, which are repeatedly described as complements, complications and creative tensions with the WTO. With the introduction of the ECSC, a common market for coal, iron ore and used metals was created in its six member states (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). This strongly strengthened economic cooperation between the signatories – the steel trade increased tenfold after the creation of the Community – while showing them the importance of supranational cooperation. In this respect, it has paved the way for closer European integration and is seen as the forerunner of the European Economic Community and its successor, the EU. The world`s major countries introduced the GATT in response to the waves of protectionism that paralyzed and contributed to world trade during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Successive GATT «cycles» have significantly reduced customs barriers on industrial products in industrialized countries. Since the beginning of the GATT in 1947, the average tariffs set by industrialized countries have increased from about 40% to about 5% today. These tariff reductions helped to promote both the considerable expansion of world trade after the Second World War and the resulting increase in real per capita income between developed and developing countries. The annual benefit of the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers resulting from the Uruguay Round agreement (negotiated between 1986 and 1993 under the aegis of GATT) was estimated at about $96 billion, or 0.4% of global GDP. The history of international trade may resemble a struggle between protectionism and free trade, but the modern context is growing both types of policies in parallel.

In fact, the choice between free trade and protectionism can be a bad choice. Developed countries recognize that economic growth and stability depend on a strategic mix of trade policy. At the same time, the global patchwork of international trade agreements has changed. Recent agreements include the comprehensive and progressive trans-Pacific Partnership agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam; The Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement; The comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the European Union; and others. Canada, Mexico and the United States renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership was negotiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. The United States has bilateral free trade agreements with 20 countries, half of them in Latin America and the Caribbean. Given that European regionalisation has been able to launch many other regional trade agreements in Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, it has also helped to advance the GATT agenda, with other countries seeking further tariff reductions to compete with the preferential trade that the European partnership has produced.

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