The trade policy of the United States has traditionally relied almost exclusively on multilateral negotiations in the context of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The United States avoided bilateral free trade agreements, except with countries whose import tariffs had little effect on the direction of trade. However, in 1985, the United States began to depart from its long-standing opposition to regional trade agreements.
The conclusion of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA) in 1987 led to the conclusion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 and, subsequently, to the Free Trade Areas of the Americas initiative. After 2000, the United States sought to densify its free trade agreements network and by 2015 has gradually concluded bilateral and plurilateral free trade agreements with a total of 25 countries.
The size of the U.S. economy and the consequent desire of other countries to become preferential U.S. trading partners allowed the proliferation of these free trade agreements. Since the 2000s, the extension of the U.S. free trade agreements’ network along with the reaction of the European Union to the risk of losing privileged access to markets covered by the U.S. free trade agreements and the consequent competitive attitude between the two in the conclusion of free trade agreements has led to a generalized shift from multilateral negotiations to plurilateral and bilateral preferential trade agreements. This shift from multilateralism to regionalism, plurilateralism and bilateralism in international trade negotiations has wide-ranging repercussions for the future international rules of trade.
The rise of free trade agreements has already changed the focus of the academic debate. The challenge of free trade agreements rather than of the WTO now almost monopolizes the discussions on international trade law, a trend that was expected to intensify after the conclusion of the TTP and the advancement of the negotiations on the TTIP. The recent withdrawal of the United States from the TTP and the stalemate of the negotiations on the TTIP may mark the beginning of a new era. CALS monitors these developments and provides a permanent forum for reflection, discussion and analysis.