Bilateral Trade Agreements with Their Pros and Cons

Top 12 U.S. Bilateral Trade Agreements

woman shopping at grocery store
•••  Photo by Tassii/Getty Images

A bilateral trade agreement confers favored trading status between two nations. By giving them access to each other's markets, it increases trade and economic growth. The terms of the agreement standardizes business operations and levels the playing field.

Each agreement covers five areas. First, it eliminates tariffs and other trade taxes. This gives companies within both countries a price advantage. It works best when each country specializes in different industries. 

Second, countries agree they won't dump products at a cheap cost. Their companies do this to gain unfair market share. They drop prices below what it would sell for at home or even its cost to produce. They raise prices once they've destroyed competitors.

Third, the governments refrain from using unfair subsidies. Many countries subsidize strategic industries, such as energy and agriculture. This lowers the costs for those producers. It gives them an unfair advantage when exporting to another nation.

Fourth, the agreement standardizes regulations, labor standards, and environmental protections. Fewer regulations act like a subsidy. It gives the country's exporters a competitive advantage over its foreign competitors.

Fifth, they agree to not steal the other's innovative products. They adopt each others' copyright and intellectual property laws. 

Advantages

Bilateral agreements increase trade between the two countries. They open markets to successful industries. As companies benefit, they add jobs.

The country's consumers also benefit by lower costs. They can get exotic fruits and vegetable that are two expensive without the agreement. 

They are easier to negotiate than multilateral trade agreements, since they only involve two countries. This means they can go into effect faster, reaping trade benefits more quickly. If negotiations for a multilateral trade agreement fails, many of the nations will negotiate a series of bilateral agreements instead.

Disadvantages

Any trade agreement will cause less successful companies to go out of business. They can't compete with a more powerful industry in the foreign country. When protective tariffs are removed, they lose their price advantage. As they go out of business, workers lose jobs.

Bilateral agreements can often trigger competing bilateral agreements between other countries. This can whittle away the advantages the FTA confers between the original two nations. 

Examples

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would remove current barriers to trade between the United States and the European Union. It would be the largest agreement so far, beating even NAFTA. Negotiations were put on hold after President Trump took office.. Even though the EU consists of many member countries, it can negotiate as one entity. This makes the TTIP a bilateral trade agreement. 

On July 17, 2018, the world's largest bilateral agreement was signed between the EU and Japan. It reduces or ends tariffs on almost of the $152 billion in goods traded. It will come into force in 2019 after ratification. The deal will hurt U.S. auto and agricultural exporters.

The United States has bilateral trade agreements in force with 12 other countries. Here's the list, the year it went into effect and its impact.

  1. Australia (January 1, 2005) -  This agreement generated $26.7 billion in 2009, increasing trade 23 percent since its inception. U.S. goods exports increased 33 percent, while imports rose 3.5 percent.
  2. Bahrain (January 11, 2006) - All tariffs were removed. The U.S. increased exports in agriculture, financial services, telecommunications, and other services.
  3. Chile (January 1, 2004) - It eliminated tariffs, provided protection for intellectual property, and required effective labor and environmental enforcement, among other things. Unfortunately, trade decreased since 2004. U.S. exports to Chile fell 26 percent (to $8.8 billion), while imports dropped 29 percent (to $5.8 billion).
  1. Colombia (October 21, 2011) - Tariff reductions expanded exports of U.S. goods by at least $1.1 billion, and increased U.S. GDP by $2.5 billion.
  2. Israel (1985) - Reduced trade barriers and promoted regulatory transparency.
  3. Jordan (December 17, 2001) - In addition to reducing trade barriers, the agreement specifically removed barriers to U.S. meat and poultry exports, and allowed increased imports of agricultural imports from Jordan. 
  4. Korea (March 15, 2012) - Nearly 80 percent of tariffs have been removed, boosting exports by $10 billion. On March 26, 2018, the Trump administration exempted South Korea from a 25 percent steel tariff. The U.S. ally is the third-largest foreign supplier of steel. In return, South Korea amended the 2012 agreement. The United States will keep its 25 percent tariff on pickup trucks for an additional 20 years. Under the original agreement, the tariffs would have expired in 2021. South Korea agreed to double its import quota for U.S. cars.
  1. Morocco (January 5, 2006) - The goods trade surplus rose up to $1.8 billion in 2011, up from just $79 million in 2005.
  2. Oman (January 1, 2009) - Discussions are underway to agree on the details of labor standards in Oman.
  3. Panama (October 21, 2011) - Trade representatives are negotiating labor and tax policies. The agreement will remove a 7 percent average tariff, with some tariffs as high as 81 percent, and others as high as 260 percent. See Panama Canal Impact on U.S. Economy
  4. Peru (February 1, 2009) - Trade with Peru was $8.8 billion, with exports at $4.8 billion, the year the agreement was signed. The FTA eliminated all tariffs, provided legal protections for investors and intellectual property, and was the first to add protection of labor and the environment.
  1. Singapore (January 1, 2004) - Trade totaled $37 billion in 2009, a 17 percent increase since the FTA's inception. Exports rose 31 percent, to $21.6 billion.