Free Trade Agreement Levels

Free Trade Agreement Levels: A Guide to Understanding International Trade Agreements

Free trade agreements (FTAs) are international trade agreements that aim to remove trade barriers between countries. These agreements serve as a platform for countries to make mutual commitments to reduce or eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers on goods and services. With the rise of globalization and the interconnectedness of economies, FTAs have become a crucial tool for promoting economic growth and creating jobs.

However, not all free trade agreements are created equal. Different levels of integration and cooperation exist among FTAs, depending on the scope and depth of the agreement. In this article, we will examine the different levels of free trade agreements and their implications for international trade.

1. Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs)

Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) are the simplest form of free trade agreements. PTAs are bilateral agreements between two countries that reduce tariffs on a limited number of goods and services. PTAs do not require the complete elimination of tariffs, but only a reduction or elimination on goods and services covered by the agreement. As such, PTAs are often seen as a stepping stone to more comprehensive and deeply integrated agreements.

2. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)

Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are more comprehensive than PTAs. FTAs eliminate tariffs on a wide range of goods and services between participating countries as well as reduce non-tariff barriers such as regulations and standards. FTAs often include provisions on investment, intellectual property rights, and dispute settlement mechanisms. FTAs can be bilateral or multilateral agreements that involve more than two countries.

3. Customs Union

A customs union is a form of economic integration where member countries eliminate tariffs on goods traded between them and adopt a common external tariff (CET) rate on goods from non-member countries. Customs unions aim to create a level playing field in international trade and reduce the complexity of trade negotiations with non-member countries. The European Union (EU) is an example of a customs union.

4. Common Market

A common market is a higher form of economic integration compared to a customs union. A common market allows for the free movement of goods, services, labor, and capital between member countries. In addition to the elimination of tariffs and the adoption of a common external tariff, common markets also reduce non-tariff barriers and remove restrictions on the movement of labor and capital. The European Union’s Single Market is an example of a common market.

5. Economic Union

An economic union goes beyond a common market and involves a high degree of economic integration. Economic unions have a common currency, common policies on fiscal, monetary, and social issues, and harmonized regulations and standards. The European Union’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is an example of an economic union.


Free trade agreements come in different levels of integration and cooperation. From preferential trade agreements to economic unions, each level of agreement represents a deeper degree of economic integration and cooperation between participating countries. While each level of agreement has its own set of benefits and challenges, free trade agreements play a crucial role in promoting economic growth and generating jobs in participating countries. As such, it is important for countries to carefully consider their options when entering into free trade agreements and to assess the potential benefits and costs of each type of agreement.