Facing mega-regionals: What implications for Africa?

18 April 2016

During the last two decades, the global trading system has witnessed major evolutions. In particular, as a result of the lack of meaningful progress at the WTO in the framework of the Doha Round, various trade partners have increasingly sought other avenues to pursue their commercial interests, giving rise to a proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs). This process culminates today with a new trend towards mega-regional trade initiatives, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and arouses significant questions for the future of the multilateral trading system and its weakest members.

Deeper and wider than traditional RTAs, mega-regionals are set to alter the global trade architecture in a systemic way, hence the importance of understanding their implications. Specific concerns have been raised regarding the potential risks they might entail for the WTO as a whole, but also for third countries which are not part of them. How will mega-regional initiatives impact excluded developing countries, particularly in Africa? Could they also be the source of new opportunities for these "outsiders"? How could the WTO smoothly manage the transition to an era where preferential trade agreements play a more prominent role? This issue aims to shed light on those questions.

In the lead article, Simon Mevel looks at the potential impact of mega-regional trade agreements for African economies. By trying to identify ways for Africa to mitigate the potential risks of mega-regionals and support its structural transformation efforts through trade, the piece underlines that regional integration and South-South cooperation could prove essential. This contribution is complemented by an article by Fritz Putzhammer and Ulrich Schoof, which explores and evaluates the expected economic effects of planned mega-deals on countries accross the African continent.

This issue also features an analysis of mega-deals’ potential impact on the role played by the WTO in global trade governance. According to Silke Trommer, the author of the article, the current shift to more preferential and mega-regional agreements could negatively impact the WTO’s ability to fulfil its core functions, which would disproportionately affect small trading nations.

As usual, we welcome your substantive feedback and contributions. Write to us at bridgesafrica@ictsd.ch.

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18 April 2016
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