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Multilateralising Regionalism: Spaghetti Bowls as Building Blocs on the Path to Global Free Trade

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  • Richard E. Baldwin

Abstract

This paper addresses the final steps to global free trade - what they might look like, what sort of political economy forces might drive them, and what the WTO might do to help. Two facts form the point of departure: (1) Regionalism is here to stay; world trade is regulated by a motley assortment of unilateral, bilateral and multilateral trade agreements; (2) this motley assortment is not the best way to organise world trade. Moving to global duty-free trade will require a multilateralisation of regionalism. This paper presents the political economy logic of trade liberalisation and uses it to structure a narrative of world trade liberalisation since 1947. The logic is then used to project the world tariff map in 2010, arguing that the pattern will be marked by fractals - fuzzy, leaky trade blocs made up of fuzzy, leaky sub-blocs (fuzzy since the proliferation of FTAs makes it impossible to draw sharp lines around the Big-3 trade blocs, and leaky since some FTAs create free trade 'canals' linking the Big-3 blocs). The paper then presents a novel political economy mechanism - spaghetti bowls as building blocs - whereby offshoring creates a force that encourages the multilateralisation of regionalism. Finally, the paper suggests three things the WTO might do to help multilateralise regionalism. Copyright 2006 The Author Journal compilation 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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  • Richard E. Baldwin, 2006. "Multilateralising Regionalism: Spaghetti Bowls as Building Blocs on the Path to Global Free Trade," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(11), pages 1451-1518, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:worlde:v:29:y:2006:i:11:p:1451-1518
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    JEL classification:

    • F10 - International Economics - - Trade - - - General
    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • F15 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Economic Integration
    • F2 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business

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