Importance and motives of preferential trade agreements in the EU’s external trade

  • 1 Warsaw School of Economics, Collegium of World Economy, Department of Integration and European Law, al. Niepodległości 162, 02-554, Warszawa, Poland


As a result of previous multilateral negotiations tariff rates are generally low and cannot explain the reasons for recent proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTAs). The aim of the paper is to look for other motivations of EU PTAs and to assess their importance for the EU. The main research methods are statistical, review and assessment of WTO documents and critical analysis of literature.

First, the present level of tariff protection on selected import markets was estimated. This level illustrates the scale of countries’ interest in their elimination of the existing tariffs. Also the share of preferential imports in the EU extra-trade was calculated and compared with trade on MFN basis. Next, reasons for PTAs were identified. The conclusions prove that 21st century PTAs are mainly motivated not by a reduction of tariffs but by the willingness to reduce the regulatory barriers (contained in rules on public procurement, environmental protection, etc.). The most dynamic trade nowadays involves flows of accessories and services. In this situation the importance of PTAs results from the fact that they serve as instruments eliminating national regulatory barriers faced by exporters of goods and resources on foreign markets. Thus PTAs support production and sales abroad. In the EU political motivations of PTAs are important as well.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Acharya, R., Crawford, J.-A., Maliszewska, M., & Renard, C. (2011). Landscape. In J.-P. Chauffour & J.-Ch. Maur (Eds.), Preferential trade agreement policies for development: A handbook (pp. 37-68). Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-0-8213-8643-9

  • Akman, S. Armstrong, S., Braga, C., Dadush, U., Gonzalez, A., Kimura, F., & Tamura, A. (2019). The crisis in world trade. Policy Centre for the New South Policy Briefs, PB-19/15. Retrieved January 15, 2020 from

  • Ambroziak, Ł. (2013). Ocena wykorzystania preferencji celnych w przywozie do Unii Europejskiej. Unia, (6), 36-50.

  • Baldwin, R. (2011). Trade and industrialisation after globalisation’s 2nd unbundling: How building and joining a supply chain are different and why it matters. (NBER Working Paper, No. 17716, 1-38). doi: 10.3386/w17716

  • Baldwin, R. (2014). Multilateralising 21st century regionalism, global forum on trade reconciling regionalism and multilateralism in a post-Bali world. Paris: OECD. Retrieved December 20, 2019 from

  • Baldwin, R. (2016). The World Trade Organization and the future of multilateralism. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30(1), 95-116. doi:10.1257/jep.30.1.95

  • Dadush, U., & Wolff, G. B. (2019). The European Union’s response to the trade crisis. Bruegel Policy Contribution, (5), 1-13. Retrieved January 16, 2020 from

  • European Commission. (2006). Global Europe: Competing in the world. A contribution to the EU’s growth and jobs strategy. (Staff Working Document, No. 567 final, 1-18). Retrieved January 16, 2020 from

  • European Commission. (2019a). Individual reports and info sheets on implementation of EU Free Trade Agreements accompanying the document: Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Implementation of Free Trade Agreements 1 January 2018-31 December 2018. (Staff Working Document, No. 370 final, 1-316). Retrieved January 1, 2020 from

  • European Commission. (2019b). 2019 Report on implementation of EU Free Trade Agreements 1 January 2018-31 December 2018. Luxembourg, 1-48. doi:10.2781/93173

  • European Commission. (2020). Overview of FTA and other trade negotiations. Retrieved April 20, 2020 from

  • Gari, G. (2020). Recent preferential trade agreements’ disciplines for tackling regulatory divergence in services: How far beyond GATS?. World Trade Review, 19(1), 1-29. doi:10.1017/S1474745618000368

  • Heydon, K., & Woolcock, S. (2009). The rise of bilateralism: Comparing American, European and Asian approaches to preferential trade agreements. Tokyo–New York–Paris: United Nations University Press.

  • Hofmann, C., Osnago, A., & Ruta, M. (2019). The content of preferential trade agreements. World Trade Review, 18(3), 365-398. doi:10.1017/S1474745618000071

  • Horn, H., Mavroidis, P. C., & Sapir, A. (2009). Beyond the WTO? An anatomy of EU and US preferential trade agreements. Bruegel Blueprint Series, 7.

  • Kawecka-Wyrzykowska, E. (2015). Preferencyjne porozumienia handlowe—znaczenie dla handlu dobrami i innych dziedzin współpracy Unii Europejskiej z partnerami zagranicznymi. Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Ekonomicznego w Krakowie, (9), 5-25. doi:10.15678/ZNUEK.2015.0945.0901

  • Limão, N. (2016). Preferential trade agreements. (NBER Working Paper, No. 22138, 1-78).

  • Regulation (EU) No 978/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 applying a scheme of generalised tariff preferences and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 732/2008, OJ L 303/2012.

  • Whalley, J. (1998). Why do countries seek regional trade agreements?. In J. A. Frankel (Ed.), The regionalization of the world economy (pp. 1-90). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • WITS-Comtrade database. Retrieved April 25, 2020 from World Integrated Trade Solution website,

  • World Bank Group. (2017). Global value chain development report 2017. Measuring and analyzing the impact of GVCs on economic development. Washington, DC: World Bank.

  • WTO. (2011). World Trade Report 2011. The WTO and preferential trade agreements: From co-existence to coherence. Geneva: World Trade Organization.

  • WTO ITC UNCTAD. (2019). World tariff profiles 2019. Geneva: World Trade Organization.


Journal + Issues