The paradox of “preferences”: regional trade agreements and trade costs in services
Abstract This paper analyzes the relationship between regional trade integration and trade costs in services industries. The empirical analysis relies, on the one hand, on a dataset of theory-consistent bilateral trade costs calculated for 55 countries over the period 1999-2009 and, on the other hand, on an analysis of services commitments in 66 regional trade agreements to which these countries are parties. Despite the proliferation of services RTAs in the past decade, we find that trade costs are only slightly lower due to the impact of these agreements. In addition, we find that the trade cost reductions that do take place tend to happen before the agreement is signed. This mechanism is consistent with countries using services RTAs as a way of “locking in” reforms. Finally, we find that the preferential margin of services RTAs is quite thin: members and non-members both see slightly lower trade costs when an RTA is signed. We discuss the possible explanations for these findings in terms of the nature of services RTAs and their relationship with regulatory reform in signatory countries. Based on these results, we argue that regionalism in the case of services seems relatively non-discriminatory and does not lead to substantial trade preferences.
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