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A multilateral trade agreement involves three or more countries who wish to
regulate trade between the nations without discrimination. They are usually
intended to lower trade barriers between participating countries and, as a
consequence, increase the degree of economic integration between the
participants. Multilateral trade agreements are considered the most effective
Although multilateral trade existed earlier, it was only after World War II that
nations recognized the need for a set of rules with the objective of securing
market access for post-war recovering economies. The first such set of rules
came in 1947 in the form of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
(GATT). GATT was replaced in 1995 by the World Trade Organization, which
has more than 150 members. The WTO agreements cover goods, services and
Multilateral trade agreements are between many nations at one time. For this
reason, they are very complicated to negotiate, but are very powerful once all
parties sign the agreement. The primary benefit of multilateral agreements is
that all nations get treated equally, and so it levels the playing field, especially
for poorer nations that are less competitive by nature.
Multilateral Trade Agreements (MTAs)
These are agreements negotiated in and monitored by the World Trade
Organization (WTO). While many such agreements exist, the main trade
agreements relevant for public health include:
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
The General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), which covers
services including health services, water and other utilities.
The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
(TRIPS), which covers patent, copyright and trademarks on a wide
assortment of products from software to medicines.
The Agreement on Agriculture.
The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade
The Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), which
covers the rules and practices that countries must adhere to regarding
the treatment of foreign investors, including foreign investors in private
health delivery and medicine production.
The Anti-dumping Agreement.
The Agreement on Customs Valuation.
What Are Multilateral Agreements?
A multilateral agreement is a treaty or an accord that three or more parties,
agencies, national governments or international entities sign. Such agreements
are usually legally binding and serve to build alliances and resolve conflicts in
areas such as war, humanitarian disasters, poverty, water sanitation and
distribution. Multilateral agreements have also been used to create
international organizations and institutions that serve as world forums for
shaping public policy in a global arena.
• World powers created the United Nations (U.N.) after the end of World
War II. The U.N. was created not only as a forum for nations to reconcile
differences, but also to help alleviate the world's problems, such as trade
issues. Multilateral agreements created the U.N.; at the same, such
agreements are by-products of the U.N. as well, because diplomats from
various nations negotiatetreatiesandaccords withoneother.
• The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance of 28
independent member countries, from North America and Europe, committed
to fulfilling the objectives of the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO was established
to counter the growing threat of the Soviet Union. NATO was not only a major
• After World War II, world powers created the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade (GATT). GATT was created as a response to global trade wars,
believed to have been a primary cause of the Great Depression. GATT relieved
international trade barriers and created financial institutions that would help
prevent trade wars and future global economic catastrophes. The World Trade
Organization (WTO) came out of GATT and is theleading international body for
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Multilateralism?
In the age of globalization, international cultures and economies are
intertwined in a variety of ways. Any action that a country takes, including
actions that impact their internal economies, have an impact on other
countries. For many nations and governments, this makes working
multilaterally on issues of mutual concern more important. This includes
military action, trade agreements, disaster relief and general economic
cooperation through international organizations.
• One disadvantage of multilateral actions is that it can make taking any
action more difficult or at least slow things down. It may also mean that a
government does not get everything that it wants or does not get what it
wants in a timely manner. Different countries and governments will have
different priorities and different ideas what actions should be taken, in what
order and with what goals. Acting multilaterally can mean compromising on
both the timeline and goals of a proposed action.
Costs and Efficiency
• An advantage of multilateral action is that different countries have
different resources and areas of expertise. Nations working together can pool
these resources and achieve more successful outcomes as well as cost savings.
Additionally, in a multilateral operation, no one country will have to use all of
its available resources on a single operation. In economic and environmental
areas, a number of countries acting in concert can achieve greater results than
each country acting alone. One example of this is the Kyoto Protocol, in which
a number of countries agreed to simultaneously reduce their greenhouse gas
• Another disadvantage of multilateralism is in conducting operations with
other countries. While sharing resources can be beneficial to countries, it can
also complicate matters. Many countries have strict rules in place for their
armed forces, relief agencies and other workers. Different nations have
differing ways of doing things and varying chains of command, and some
countries do not like their personnel to be under the command of another
nation. This can lead to confusion, miscommunication and difficulty in making
decisions and getting things done.
• A final advantage of multilateralism, and perhaps the most important
one, is that it engenders goodwill and respect from other nations. When a
country acts on its own, without regard to the impact on trade, investment and
the economy of other nations, it can cause a chill in diplomatic relations and
generally damage a nation's international reputation. This can make it more
difficult for that nation to work with other countries in the future on other