Step-by-step guide to exporting

Understanding regional trade agreements


Regional trade agreements (RTAs) are preferential trading arrangements between countries or groups of countries. They are designed to encourage open and competitive markets for businesses in the participating countries.

As a member of the European Union (EU), the UK currently participates in EU regional trade agreements. These are negotiated by the European Commission with other countries or trading groups.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has rules under which groups of countries can agree to trade together on preferential terms. This is known as a regional trade agreement (RTA).

There are different types of RTA, including:

  • Free trade areas - where preferential rates for goods or services are exchanged, but individual countries keep their own tariff rates
  • Customs unions - where members have both preferential rates for goods or services, and the same external tariff rates
  • Asymmetrical agreements - where preferences are not exactly the same on each side - for example, one country may be given more time to put certain preferences in place

The World Trade Organisation agreements cover goods, services and intellectual property.

What all regional trade agreements in the World Trade Organisation have in common is that they are reciprocal trade agreements between two or more partners. Information on RTAs notified to the WTO is available in the RTA Database. This allows you to search for regional trade agreements between non-EU countries, alongside agreements made between EU countries and non-EU nations.