Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Friday, 9 December 2005

A Guide to World Trade Blocs

The world is increasingly divided into trade blocs, which play a central role in international trade negotiations. If world trade talks fail, many observers believe regional groupings will play an even bigger role.

Click below to learn more about the main blocs:

APEC

APEC

Members: Australia; Brunei; Canada; Chile; China; Hong Kong; Indonesia; Japan; South Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; Philippines; Russia; Singapore; Taiwan; Thailand; United States; Vietnam

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is a loose grouping of the countries bordering the Pacific Ocean who have pledged to facilitate free trade.

Its 21 members range account for 45% of world trade.

They have pledged to liberalises trade among themselves by 2010 for developed countries and 2015 for developing countries.

Recently China has begun signing bilateral free trade deals with a number of Apec members.

CAIRNS GROUP

Cairns Group

Members: Argentina; Australia; Bolivia; Brazil; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Costa Rica; Guatemala; Indonesia; Malaysia; New Zealand; Paraguay; Philippines; South Africa; Thailand; Uruguay

The Cairns group of agricultural exporting nations was formed in 1986 to lobby at the last round of world trade talks in order to free up trade in agricultural products.

It is named after the town in Australia where the first meeting took place.

Highly efficient agricultural producers, including those in both developed and developing countries, want to ensure that their products are not excluded from markets in Europe and Asia.

The developing country members of this group have now formed their own grouping, the G20..

EUROPEAN UNION

EU

Members: Austria: Belgium: Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; United Kingdom

The EU has become the most powerful trading bloc in the world with a GDP nearly as large as that of the United States.

It is also the largest importer of agricultural products from developing countries, and maintains close links to its former colonies in the ACP group through trade preferences and aid deals.

The EU has found it difficult to shed its protectionist past based on the idea of self-sufficiency in agriculture which limits agricultural exports from the other countries, although it has implemented a major reform of its Common Agricultural Policy to shift subsides to support the environment.

G20

g20

Members: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe

At the Cancun meeting of the world trade talks in September 2003, a powerful new grouping of developing countries emerged.

Led by rapidly growing countries and major exporters like Brazil, China, India, and South Africa, this group has been powerful enough to challenge the EU and the US in trade negotiations.

At Cancun, the G20 made it clear that it could not accept the EU plans to include investment and competition as elements in the trade talks.

Now, the G20 are standing firm in insisting that rich countries make concessions on agriculture before there will be any final agreement on services or reductions in tariffs on manufactured goods.

NAFTA

NAFTA

Members: Canada; Mexico; United States

The United States has linked with Canada and Mexico to form a free trade zone, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The NAFTA agreement covers environmental and labour issues as well as trade and investment, but US unions and environmental groups argue that the safeguards are too weak.

Plans to include the rest of Latin America creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) have been put on hold following opposition from key countries like Brazil.

But the US is separately signing free trade agreements with some Andean Pact nations and on 1 January 2006 the Central American Free Trade Area (CAFTA) will come into effect, including Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, the regional free trade pact called Mercosur, between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, will be expanded to include Venezuela..




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