The laws of regional trading blocs also affect the business activities of Nestlé. When Nestlé and Coca-Cola announced a joint venture to develop coffee and tea drinks, they first had to show the European Union (EU) Commission that they would not stifle competition across the region. Firms operating within the EU also have to abide by EU environmental protection laws. Nestlé works with governments to minimize the packaging waste that results from the use of its products by developing and managing waste-recovery programs. As you read this chapter, think of all the ways business activities are affected when groups of nations band together in regional trading blocs.1
Regional trade agreements are changing the landscape of the global marketplace. Companies like Nestlé of Switzerland are finding that these agreements lower trade barriers and open new markets for goods and services. Markets otherwise off-limits because tariffs made imported products too expensive can become quite attractive once tariffs are lifted. But trade agreements can be double-edged swords for many companies. Not only do they allow domestic companies to seek new markets abroad, but they also let competitors from other nations enter the domestic market. Such mobility increases competition in every market that takes part in an agreement.
Trade agreements can allow companies to alter their strategies, sometimes radically. As we will see in this chapter, for example, nations in the Americas want to create a free trade area that runs from the northern tip of Alaska to the southern tip of South America. Companies that do business throughout this region could save millions of dollars annually from the removal of import tariffs under an eventual agreement. Multinationals could also save money by supplying entire regions from just a few regional factories, rather than have a factory in each nation.
We began Part Three of this book by discussing the gains resulting from specialization and trade. We now close this part of the book by showing how groups of countries are cooperating to dismantle barriers that threaten these potential gains. In this chapter, we focus on regional efforts to encourage freer trade and investment. We begin by defining regional economic integration and describing its five different levels. We then examine the benefits and drawbacks of regional trade agreements. Finally, we explore several long-established trade agreements and several agreements in the early stages of development.
What Is Regional Economic Integration?
The process whereby countries in a geographic region cooperate to reduce or eliminate barriers to the international flow of products, people, or capital is called regional economic integration (regionalism). A group of nations in a geographic region undergoing economic integration is called a regional trading blocs.
regional economic integration (regionalism)
Process whereby countries in a geographic region cooperate to reduce or eliminate barriers to the international flow of products, people, or capital.
The goal of nations undergoing economic integration is not only to increase cross-border trade and investment but also to raise living standards for their people. We saw in Chapter 5, for example, how specialization and trade create real gains in terms of greater choice, lower prices, and increased productivity. Regional trade agreements are designed to help nations accomplish these objectives. Regional economic integration sometimes has additional goals, such as protection of intellectual property rights or the environment, or even eventual political union.