China's New Generation Trade Agreements: Importing Rules to Lock in Domestic Reform?

Jappe Eckhardt, Hongyu Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since the beginning of the 21st century we have witnessed a proliferation of Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) in Asia Pacific. China has been at the forefront of this development. Initially, China's PTAs were very shallow and mainly aimed at building friendly relationships with developing countries. However, over time, China has started to negotiate deeper PTAs with developing and developed countries alike. This notable shift has thus far been understood to result from four broad motivations: China's desire to access key export markets; the facilitation of regional production networks; to address resource security concerns; and/or to further geostrategic interests and political influence. We propose that these motives are not sufficient to fully account for China's new generation trade agreements. We suggest that China is increasing its integration into the world economy to push for domestic marketization and reform by credibly committing to trade liberalization through PTAs. Deep and comprehensive PTAs oblige a country to follow a set of rules that leave little leeway to violate the terms. In order to successfully implement and enforce PTA commitments, China has also gradually strengthened its regulatory state by investing in regulatory capacity and capability in the field of trade policy. We test the plausibility of our argument through an in‐depth analysis of the PTAs signed by China since 2000 and find evidence that China's PTAs are indeed in part driven by a desire to lock in domestic economic reform, which has gone hand in hand with a strengthening of its regulatory state.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-597
JournalRegulation & Governance
Issue number3
Early online date8 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2021

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  • China
  • economic reform
  • preferential trade agreements
  • regionalism
  • regulatory state

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