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Top 10 Stories in Global Trade, 2013

This has been a historic year in free trade. The map of world trade is being hurriedly redrawn by a bevy of  massive regional trade agreements, potentially redefining the rules that govern international commerce. The causes of these tectonic shifts are now many: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the E.U. and U.S., the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between ASEAN countries and a host of others like New Zealand and India, and a series of smaller free trade agreements (FTA) between China, Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and the E.U.

The following is a compilation of what we believe are the year’s highlights, the most dramatic and transformative stories in global trade.

10. China, Sri Lanka to Finalize FTA

China and Sri Lanka will soon finalize a free trade deal, the Chinese Embassy in Colombo reported.

Senior Communist Party of China (CPC) official Liu Yunshan told Sri Lankan Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa that China looks forward to establishing a free trade zone with Sri Lanka as soon as possible and they are confident of signing a deal early as negotiations have progressed well over the last six months.

9. China, South Korea Wrap First-Stage FTA Talks

China and South Korea wrapped up first-stage talks about a free trade deal between them early in September.

This was the seventh round of Sino-ROK free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations, held in Wei Fang, Shan Dong Province. Talks began in May 2012.

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8. Vietnam-EU Deal Close; An FTA No One is Talking About

While Vietnam has often been the center of attention during the much publicized Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, the mainstream media has largely neglected the free trade agreement it has quietly been fashioning with the European Union (E.U.).

But now Vietnam and the E.U. seem poised to finalize the last details. The fifth round of the discussions concluded in November in Hanoi and the European Parliament has already convened in Brussels to discuss its future passage.

7. What is APEC and Does It Matter?

What about the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)? Or maybe more pertinently, what precisely is the APEC? Inaugurated in 1989, it’s a consortia of twenty-one nations intended to promote trade liberalization amongst them. The pact is structured around what is commonly referred to as the “Borgor Goals,” a 1994 manifesto collectively authored at a summit in Borgor, Indonesia.

6. It’s Official: EU Grants Pakistan GSP Plus Status

The European Parliament has officially granted Pakistan duty-free access to its markets under the Generalized System of Preference Plus (GSP), effective January 1 2014. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of extending the coveted trade status to Pakistan, with 406 members registering their support and 186 withholding it. The new designation is expected to have a sizable impact on Pakistan’s exports, affecting more than 3,500 different products.

5. The World Changing Treaty You’ve Never Heard Of

On June 4th, the Panamanian government announced its intent to join the Pacific Alliance (PA), following the conclusion of a free trade agreement with Colombia. Largely neglected by the media in favor of coverage of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the PA is potentially the most consequential commercial treaty since NAFTA passed in 1994.

4. U.S. Senate to Review GSP Update Act; Historic Opportunity for Travel Goods

Already introduced by the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate will now review the GSP Update for the Production Diversification and Trade Enhancement Act (H.R. 2139), commonly referred to as GSP Update 2013. Many believe the legislation, once passed, could produce historically significant results for U.S. trade, particularly for travel goods like handbags, luggage and wallets. U.S. Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the bill today.

3. New TPP Controversy: Fast Tracking Authority

As the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) draws nearer to a conclusion, anxieties have been brewing over the possibility that Congress could thwart a resolution by opposing President Obama’s trade promotion authority, colloquially known as his “fast track” authority, or his executive power to negotiate treaties and trade agreements that also limits congressional prerogative to introduce amendments to such agreements.

2. Global Trade Deal Finalized; Finally, Doha Rounds Produce Results

It’s been a long time coming, but the World Trade Organization finally concluded its first multilateral trade agreement, settled in Bali, Indonesia on December 6. The negotiated arrangement is the only of its kind to emerge from the epic failure of the Doha rounds of international trade talks, though it remains unclear how this will ultimately impact the reality of global trade.

1. Is the US Rushing into the TPP?

A tinderbox of controversy from its inception, negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership have only become more contentious, like an avalanching snowball that gathers size at it nears its final destination. U.S. businesses have taken to loudly voicing their concerns that the trade agreement is throttling towards its conclusion too hastily to guarantee its protection of their interests.