One of the challenges of the WTO system has been the maintenance and expansion of the liberal global trading system in recent years. Multilateral negotiations on trade liberalization are progressing very slowly and the need for consensus among the many WTO members limits the scope of trade reform agreements. As Mike Moore, a new WTO Director General, said, the organization is like a car with an accelerator pedal and 140 hand brakes. While multilateral efforts have reduced tariffs on industrial products, they have been much less successful in liberalizing trade in agriculture, textiles and clothing, as well as in other sectors of international trade. Recent negotiations, such as the Doha Development Round, have been difficult and their ultimate success is uncertain. As a multilateral trade agreement, GATT calls on its signatories to extend the status of the Most Preferred Nation (MFN) to other trading partners participating in the WTO. MFN status means that each WTO member enjoys the same tariff treatment of its products in foreign markets as the “preferred” country that competes in the same market, thus excluding preferences or discrimination from a Member State. Although the WTO embodies the principle of non-discrimination in international trade, Article 24 of the GATT authorizes the creation of free trade zones and “customs unions” among WTO members. A free trade area is a group of countries that remove all tariffs on trade with each other, but retain their autonomy in setting their tariffs with non-members. A customs union is a group of countries that remove all tariffs on trade between them, while maintaining a common external tariff for trade with countries outside the EU (which is technically contrary to the MFN). Trade unions and environmentalists in rich countries have been the most active in seeking labour and environmental standards. The danger is that the application of such standards could simply be an excuse for protectionist protectionism in rich countries, which would harm workers in poor countries.
In fact, people in poor, capitalist or working-class countries were extremely hostile to the imposition of such standards. For example, the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle was partially unsuccessful because developing countries opposed the Clinton administration`s attempt to include labour standards in multilateral agreements. Lewer JJ, Van den Berg H (2007a) Religion and international trade: Does the sharing of a religious culture facilitate the creation of commercial networks? Amer J Econ Sociology 66:765-794 Besedes T, Prusa TJ (2006b) Product differentiation and duration of import trade in the United States. J Int Econ 70:339-358 Trade agreements designated by the WTO as preferential trade agreements are also referred to as regional (RTA), although they are not necessarily concluded by countries in a given region. Currently, 205 agreements are in effect as of July 2007. More than 300 people have been notified to the WTO.  The number of free trade agreements has increased significantly over the past decade. Between 1948 and 1994, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), predecessor to the WTO, received 124 notifications. Since 1995, more than 300 trade agreements have been concluded.  Moser C, Rose AK (2012) Why do trade negotiations last so long? J Econ Integr 27:280-290 Lavalée E, Lochard J (2015) The comparative impact of independence on trade.
J Comp Econ 43:613-632 A trade agreement (also known as the trade pact) is a large-scale tax, customs and trade agreement, often with investment guarantees. It exists when two or more countries agree on conditions that help them trade with each other. The most frequent trade agreements are preferential and free trade regimes to reduce (or remove) tariffs, quotas and other trade restrictions imposed on intermediaries. Melitz J (2008) Language and foreign trade. Eur Econ Rev 52:667-699 Egger PH, Larch M (2008) Interdependent preferential trade agreement memberships: an empiric