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Global trade, in graphics: Why everyone is so keen to agree new trade deals

GLOBAL trade talks would be great if only they worked. Multilateral deals mean common standards and lower barriers for all, but the Doha round, launched by the World Trade Organisation in 2001, is dead in all but name, having seemingly drawn to a close after the negotiation of an uninspiring set of reforms in Bali in 2013. Growth in global trade volumes has slowed in recent years, and the cause of liberalisation is increasingly advanced by regional trade agreements (RTAs). The number of RTAs has risen from around 70 in 1990 to just under 300 today. The chart at the bottom shows some of the biggest. At the moment, two RTAs (with confusingly similar initials) hog the headlines. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would link 11 economies of the Pacific rim—including Japan and Singapore—with America. These 12 countries together account for 40% of world GDP and one-third of trade. Meanwhile, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is an ambitious planned trade deal between America and the EU.

These new deals not only involve fewer countries, but tend to have a different focus to previous trade deals. The focus of TPP, for instance, is less on dismantling tariff barriers and more on tackling tough issues such as intellectual property, labour and environmental standards. This reflects the fact that traditional tariffs are already low after decades of …

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