A free trade agreement removes all barriers to trade among members, which means that they can freely move goods and services between them. When it comes to dealing with non-members, each member`s trade policies continue to come into force. As a general rule, the benefits and obligations of trade agreements apply only to their signatories. In collaboration with partners such as the WTO and the OECD, the World Bank Group provides information and support to countries wishing to sign or deepen regional trade agreements. In practical terms, the benefits of the WBG`s work are as follows: regional trade agreements are multiplying and changing their type. In 1990, 50 trade agreements were in force. In 2017, there were more than 280. In many trade agreements, negotiations today go beyond tariffs and cover several policy areas relating to trade and investment in goods and services, including rules that go beyond borders, such as competition policy, public procurement rules and intellectual property rights. ATRs, which cover tariffs and other border measures, are “flat” agreements; THE RTAs, which cover more policy areas at the border and at the back of the border, are “deep” agreements.
To the extent that atRAs go beyond WTO commitments and remain open to further participation by countries committed to their standards, they can complement the multilateral trading system. Over the years, the OECD has examined the relationship between regional trade agreements and the multilateral trading system, including specific policy areas addressed by ATRs, such as agricultural addressing, technical regulations, compliance standards and procedures, investment rules on international technology transfer, integration of environmental considerations and approaches to market opening in the digital age – to name a few. All agreements concluded outside the WTO framework (which provide additional benefits beyond the WTO level, but which apply only between signatories and not other WTO members) are considered to be preferred by the WTO. Under WTO rules, these agreements are subject to certain requirements, such as WTO notification and general reciprocity (preferences should apply equally to each signatory to the agreement), where unilateral preferences (some of the signatories enjoy preferential market access to the other signatories without reducing their tariffs) are allowed only in exceptional circumstances and as a temporary measure.  Many ATRs contain elements that deepen regulatory cooperation and new market opportunities are created, even as participants address structural barriers in their own economies. Next-generation RTAs are working to go further. Countries wishing to participate in and benefit from global markets must increasingly integrate trade and investment measures into their broader national structural reforms. Indeed, countries may be able to use the current and future negotiations on the “beyond the border” regime as the engine of desired internal political reforms. The major structural question of whether, when and how to multilateralize the provisions in atRs is above all a political issue that governments must address.