The Spaghetti Bowl: Visualising the Proliferation of Preferential Trade Agreements

DESTA_figure2.png

The world of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) is rapidly evolving: governments increasingly negotiate on the bilateral and regional level. This activity has created a complex web of PTAs spanning the globe. Economics professor Jagdish Baghwati likened the phenomenon to a “spaghetti bowl” in the early 1990s. Since then, new waves of preferential trade negotiations have swept over different regions, leading to a considerable increase in the overall number of treaties and the network’s density.

The figure above (Click here for a larger version) depicts the whole network of PTAs (a total of 910 treaties, including accessions to base treaties) for 203 countries/customs territories. It is based on the DESTA dataset, which I have visualised using a combination of R and Gephi.

How to read the figure:

  • Countries are depicted as circles, treaties are represented by rectangles; the size of the individual nodes is proportional to their respective number of connections.
  • Lines connect a country with a treaty: individually, they represent membership of a specific country in a PTA.
  • The colours depict geographical regions. Interestingly, the mapping algorithms automatically create regional clusters, which highlights the fact that many governments negotiated the majority of their agreements with states in their immediate neighbourhood.

A few months ago, I also created a dynamic version to visualise these treaty connections.

In comparison, this is how the network looked like in 1995 – when the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established and also approximately when Bhagwati made his observation of the spaghetti bowl: (Click here for the larger version)

DESTA_figure3.png

The figure above shows all treaties in the DESTA dataset that were concluded before 1996; note that the colouration differs slightly from figure 1.

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The Spaghetti Bowl: Visualising the Proliferation of Preferential Trade Agreements