The Internet and technological advances in telecommunications link trade partners across the globe.
Yet, this does not mean that trade barriers are non-existent. While the World Trade Organization (WTO)
promotes global multilateral free trade, regional trade blocks provide their members with the mechanisms for
competing in an aggressive global market.
Regardless of the size of your business, it is essential to know the international trade regulations that govern
your import and/or export operations. This article provides a brief description of each trade block – date
established, list of members, goals, population, and GDP (PPP). Links are provided for more detailed
information of trade agreements and tariffs.
In general terms, regional trade blocks are associations of nations at a governmental level to promote trade
within the block and defend its members against global competition. Defense against global competition is
obtained through established tariffs on goods produced by member states, import quotas, government
subsidies, onerous bureaucratic import processes, and technical and other non-tariff barriers.
Since trade is not an isolated activity, member states within regional blocks also cooperate in economic,
political, security, climatic, and other issues affecting the region.
In terms of their size and trade value, there are four major trade blocks and a larger number of blocks of
The four major regional trade blocks and the newly established African trade block are, as
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Updated 25 Jan 2018
Established on August 8, 1967, in Bangkok/Thailand.
Member States: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore,
Thailand, and Vietnam.
For a map of the region, click here.
Goals: (1) Accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and (2) Promote
regional peace and stability and adhere to United Nations Charter.
Important Indicators for 2014: Population 622 million; GDP US$2.6 trillion; and Total Trade US$1 trillion. (Fact
Sheet April 2016, ASEAN Website.)
ASEAN Economic Community (AEC): Learn more about ASEAN Leaders' vision to transform ASEAN into a
single market and production base that is highly competitive and fully integrated into the global ecomony.
News: For ASEAN statements and communiques, click here.
Check Out: Joint Statement of the US-ASEAN Special Leaders' Summit: Sunnylands Declaration, signed
in Sunnylands, California, February 15-16, 2016.
Calendar of Official Meetings 2018
EU (European Union) Updated 25 Jan 2018
Founded in 1951 by six neighboring states as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Over time
evolved into the European Economic Community, then the European Community and, in 1992, was finally
transformed into the European Union.
Regional block with the largest number of members states (28). These include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria,
Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland,
Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden,
The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
For a map of the Union, click here.
Goals: Evolved from a regional free-trade association of states into a union of political, economic and executive
Population estimated at 515 million (July 2016); GDP (PPP) estimated at US$19.18 trillion (2016); and Total Trade
US$4.503 trillion (2014 est.) [All figures from CIA World Factbook updated 12 January 2017.]
For up-to-date trade news: Visit EurActiv – an independent media portal fully dedicated to EU affairs.
EU-US Free Trade Alliance (TTIP): For updates on negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA.
BREXIT - All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU: On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom voted
in a referendum to leave the European Union after 43 years as a member state. The process was officially
initiated on 29 March 2017, indicating that the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
MERCOSUR (Mercado Comun del Cono Sul - Southern Cone Common Market) Updated 25 Jan 2018
Official site is available only in Spanish and Portuguese.
Established on 26 March 1991 with the Treaty of Assunción.
Full members include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Associate members include
Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Associate members have access to preferential trade but not to tariff
benefits of full members. Guyana and Suriname signed Framework Agreements in 2013. Mexico, interested in
becoming a member of the region, has an observer status.
For a map of the region, click here.
Goals: Integration of member states for acceleration of sustained economic development based on social
justice, environmental protection, and combating poverty.
Population: 295 million people (2014 est.);
GDP (PPP): US$3.2 trillion (Summit of Heads of Member & Associated States, Brazil, July 17, 2015).
News: Visit MercoPress – an independent news agency operating from Montevideo, Uruguay, the
administrative headquarters of Mercosur, that focuses on news from member states.
NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) Updated 25 Jan 2018
Agreement signed on 1 January 1994.
Members: Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America.
Click here for map of the region.
Goals: Eliminate trade barriers among member states, promote conditions for free trade, increase investment
opportunities, and protect intellectual property rights.
Population of over 478 million (July 2015 est., The CIA Factbook, February 2016).
GDP (PPP) US$21.818 trillion (2015 est., The CIA Factbook, February 2016).
Check Out: Legal texts
Agreement, Rules of Procedures, Code of Conduct, and Procedural Forms.
What's New? Publication of recent decisions made.
Other regional trade blocks, regional economic partnerships and free trade associations
include the following: Updated 25 Jan 2018
ANDEAN (Andean Community Countries) – Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Associate Members: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Observer Countries: Mexico and Panama.
BSEC (Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation) – Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria,
Georgia, Hellenic Republic, Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
CARICOM (Caribbean Community) – Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica,
Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & The
Grenadines, Surinam, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Associate Members: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Turks & Caicos Islands.
Check out: Caribbean Community (CARICOM) - Very Useful Websites for Trade and Investment.
CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States)
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and
For statistics and other information (in English), visit the Interstate Statistical Committee of the CIS.
COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa)
Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya,
Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States)
Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali,
Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
Eurasian Economic Union - Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, and Russia.
EFTA (European Free Trade Association) – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
GAFTA (Greater Arab Free Trade Area) - Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya,
Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and
Yemen. (No official Website found.)
GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Pacific Community – comprised of the 22 Pacific island countries and territories of American Samoa, Cook
Islands, Fiji Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia,
Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau,
Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna, and the founding countries of Australia, France, New Zealand and
the United States of America.
SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation)
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
SADC (Southern Africa Development Community)
Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique,
Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
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AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) Added 5 Apr 2018
Established on 21 March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.
Member States: Forty-four (44) of the 55 members of the African Union (AU) signed the agreement. Prominent
among the countries that did not sign the agreement was Nigeria, one of Africa's largest economies. Ranked by
number of member states, the AfCFTA becomes the world's largest trade block.
See List of African countries that signed the agreement.
Goals: (1) To create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons
and investments. (2) Expand intra-African trade. (3) Expedite regional and continental integration processes. (4)
Enhance competitiveness for industries and enterprises.
Population of all 55 members of the African Union number 1.2 billion; GDP is more than US$2 trillion.
Learn more: Press Release of the AfCFTA Summit, 21 March 2018.