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The Evolution of
Trade Agreements

A visual exploration of more than
700 trade agreements that have
been signed between 1947
and 2014. More...

Please note: The interactive version of the project has been designed for at least table touch devices or desktop computers. This limitied screen size only presents a preview of the complete, interactive version.

Depth Index ?
Amount of Agreements

Selection of Findings and Data Stories

1950 – 1990

"Bloc Agreements" to
Protect Markets
In the 1960s and 70s, Western Europe deepened its economic ties agains the Soviet bloc.
As a result, the European Community was created by the "EC Treaty" (1957) upon the later formation of the European Union.
Early Hopes: New Regional Blocs in the Third World
Third world countries embraced free trade to be less dependent on the Western and Soviet bloc.
New blocs were developed in Africa (1962), Asia (1964) and North America (1968).
Trade Relations of the Third World with Developed Countries
With decolonization on the way and high hopes for a “New International Economic Order” Third World countries rebalanced trade relations with Developed countries.
For instance, the Region-Region Agreement "Lomé Convention" (1975).

1990 – 2014

Strong Increase in Amount and Depth of Agreememts Since the Early 1990s
The fall of the iron curtain created demand for PTAs. In the Americas, countries started to sign PTAs in the wake of the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992.
Europe Has Signed the Most PTAs but Asian Countries Are Rising
Up to the early 1990s, European countries were by far the most avid signers of PTAs.
By 2002, countries such as China and Japan had not yet signed a PTA but most recently, Asian countries, such as Singapore or China, have become prominent actors in the spread of PTAs.
From Plurilateral in the Past to “Mega-Regional” Agreements Today
Early agreements were mostly of a plurilateral type (more than two but not many member countries).
Recent PTAs are increasingly Region-Region Agreements and not yet captured are the ongoing negotiations for "mega-regionals", namely, the TTIP and the TPP.


This radial dendrogram distills more than 700 trade agreements that have been signed between 1947 and 2014. The data is freely available at designoftradeagreements.org and was collected by an international team of researchers. It was originally published in: Dür, A., Baccini L., and Elsig M. 2014. The Design of International Trade Agreements: Introducing a New Dataset. The Review of International Organizations.

The generic term for all trade agreements shown in the visualization is “preferential trade agreement” (or PTA), following Dür and Elsig (2014). A PTA is defined as an agreement that liberalizes trade between two or more countries but that does not extend to all or at least a majority of countries.

The PTAs shown here encompass partial free trade agreements, full free trade agreements and customs unions.

For a general introduction to trade agree-ments, see Dür, A. and Elsig, M. 2014. Introduction: The Purpose, Design and Effects of Preferential Trade Agreements, in: Dür, Elsig (eds.), Trade Cooperation – The Purpose, Design and Effects of Preferential Trade Agreements, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–22
Measuring Depth
The depth index is a simple additive index of 7 key statements that can be part of a PTA.
The 7 key statements are tariff reduction, intellectual property rights protection, government purchases, technical barriers to trade, services, investments and compe-tition. The scale of the index is 0 – 7. The depth measure used here was developed by Dür, Baccini, and Elsig (2014).

The depth of PTAs is heterogeneous. Some PTAs cover a large number of different issues, from trade in services to government purchases, whereas others are very narrow. Some PTAs include far-reaching statements, while others are relatively shallow.

For example, a PTA with a depth score of 0 is an agreement with no substantive statements in any of the 7 key statements. On the other extreme, a PTA with a depth score of 7 is more than an agreement with substantive statements in all 7 key statements.

Further details on the index are provided in Table 1.

Note that the depth index is not available (N.A.) for all PTAs because the researchers did not find full texts for all agreements.
The Bertelsmann Foundation launched the Global Economic Dynamics Project to help make complex economic dynamics trans-parent and understandable.

The project examines the causes and effects of economic trends, as well as the connec-tions linking one trend to another. Within the GED Project we are working with latest tools and methods for measuring, forecasting and representing global economic dynamics.

One example is our award-winning visual-ization tool GED VIZ that makes global dynamics of trade, finance and migration flows tangible.

The above visualization of trade agreements is a consequent addition to the GED Project and was initiated by the project team.

The visualization was designed and imple-mented by Sebastian Sadowski.
Dr. Tobias Pfaff helped with bridging the economic and data perspectives.

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