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. Partial examples of unilateral free trade can be found in the spontaneous and sometimes abolition of specific tariffs by many governments, as Doug Irwin points out in The Free Trade Under Fire. In 2010, the average rate applied between WTO countries was 3.7% compared to an average rate of 9.9% – “linked,” which is capped by WTO rules. The typical government voluntarily imposed lower tariffs than it could have legally imposed. A definite prognosis is that international trade agreements will continue to be controversial. Over time, these benefits disappear.
Second, other countries pay and add their own tariffs. Today, exports by domestic companies are declining. While companies are suffering, they are laying off recently hired workers. World trade is in decline and all are suffering. I would like to add to your argument that trade agreements do not just “tie our hands” but also tie the hands of the other. In other words, they can prevent catastrophic trade wars that only lead to a rapid increase in tariffs without net benefits. Therefore, if one nation applies an optimal tariff, the other nation is harmed. They can impose their own optimal tariff, which hurts the national nation. This in turn changes the calculation of their optimal tariff model, which requires a new tariff which, in turn, reduces the well-being of the other nation, changes the calculation of its optimal tariff model and requires a new tariff… et cetera and ad nauseam. There`s an involuntary trade war. If “hands are tied,” such wasted nonsense is avoided.
In principle, we can distinguish between unilateral trade agreements and systems (offered from one side to the other) and reciprocal trading systems (negotiated and approved by both parties). Critics of bilateral and regional approaches to trade liberalization have many additional arguments. They propose that these approaches undermine and supplant the MULTILATERAL approach of the WTO, which must be favoured for global use on a non-discriminatory basis, rather than supporting and complementing it. Therefore, the long-term outcome of bilateralism could be a deterioration of the global trading system into competing and discriminatory regional trading blocs, which could lead to additional complexity that complicates the flow of goods between countries. In addition, the reform of issues such as agricultural export subsidies cannot be effectively addressed at the bilateral or regional level.