Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Related Terms


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

FTAs are arrangements between two or more countries or trading blocs that primarily agree to reduce or eliminate customs tariff and non tariff barriers on substantial trade between them. FTAs, normally cover trade in goods (such as agricultural or industrial products) or trade in services (such as banking, construction, trading etc.). FTAs can also cover other areas such as intellectual property rights (IPRs), investment, government procurement and competition policy, etc.
For the purposes of FTAs, the "base rate" is the critical element in all aspects of negotiations/phasing that are carried out. The base rate is the applied MFN duty of any year which is decided mutually. In an FTA tariff reduction is generally undertaken with reference to the base rate i.e. from the applied MFN tariffs. However, the WTO negotiations are always based on "bound duty rates" and not the MFN applied duties
Countries negotiate Free trade Agreements for a number of reasons:
(i) By eliminating tariffs and some non-tariff barriers FTA partners get easier market access into one another's markets
(ii) Exporters prefer FTAs to multilateral trade liberalization because they get preferential treatment over non-FTA member country competitors. For example in the case of ASEAN, ASEAN has an FTA with India but not with Canada. ASEAN's custom duty on leather shoes is 20% but under the FTA with India it reduced duties to zero. Now assuming other costs being equal, an Indian exporter, because of this duty preference, will be more competitive than a Canadian exporter of shoes. Secondly, FTAs may also protect local exporters from losing out to foreign companies that might receive preferential treatment under other FTAs.
(iii) Possibility of increased foreign investment from outside the FTA. Consider 2 countries A and B having an FTA. Country A has high tariff and large domestic market. The firms based in country C may decide to invest in country A to cater to A's domestic market. However, once A and B sign an FTA and B offers better business environment, C may decide to locate its plant in B to supply its products to A.
(iv) Such occurrences are not limited to tariffs alone but it is also true in the case of non-tariff measures. Especially when a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) is reached between countries A and B. Some experts are of the view that slow progress in multilateral negotiations due to complexities arising from large number of countries to reach a consensus on polarising issues, may have provided the impetus for FTAs.
India has preferential access, economic cooperation and Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with about 54 individual countries.
Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA)
 In a PTA, two or more partners agree to reduce tariffs on agreed number of tariff lines. The list of products on which the partners agree to reduce duty is called positive list. India MERCOSUR PTA is such an example. However, in general PTAs do not cover substantially all trade.
The key difference between an FTA and a PTA is that while in a PTA there is a positive list of products on which duty is to be reduced; in an FTA there is a negative list on which duty is not reduced or eliminated. Thus, compared to a PTA, FTAs are generally more ambitious in coverage of tariff lines (products) on which duty is to be reduced.
 Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)
 These terms describe agreements which consist of an integrated package on goods, services and investment along with other areas including IPR, competition etc. The India Korea CEPA is one such example and it covers a broad range of other areas like trade facilitation and customs cooperation, investment, competition, IPR etc.
 Custom Union
 In a Customs union, partner countries may decide to trade at zero duty among themselves, however they maintain common tariffs against rest of the world. An example is Southern African Customs Union (SACU) amongst South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland. European Union is also an outstanding example.
Common Market
 Integration provided by a Common market is one step deeper than that by a Customs Union. A common market is a Customs Union with provisions to facilitate free movements of labour and capital, harmonize technical standards across members etc. European Common Market is an example. Economic Union: Economic Union is a Common Market extended through further harmonization of fiscal/monetary policies and shared executive, judicial & legislative institutions. European Union (EU) is an example.
Early Harvest Scheme/Programme (EHS)
Early harvest scheme is a precursor to a free trade agreement (FTA) between two trading partners. This is to help the two trading countries to identify certain products for tariff liberalisation pending the conclusion of FTA negotiation. It is primarily a confidence building measure. A good example of an EHS is between India and Thailand signed in October 2003, wherein 83 products were identified to be reduced to zero in a phased manner. The EHS has been used as a mechanism to build greater confidence amongst trading partners to prepare them for even bigger economic engagement.


Thursday, 03rd Sep 2015, 10:30:14 AM

Add Your Comment:
Post Comment