In fact, trade agreements create new business models, but they do so by diverting trade that might otherwise develop or develop without the agreement. This makes them incompatible with WTO obligations. The WTO therefore treats them as exceptions and sets conditions for these exceptions. The WTO is a comprehensive agreement that applies to many countries, but it allows each member to maintain certain import restrictions. On the other hand, bilateral and regional free trade agreements remove almost all barriers to trade between partners and provide traders with preferential access to exporters from other countries. The WTO largely covers countries, but it leaves some barriers to trade, while bilateral and regional free trade agreements apply only to countries that are parties to the agreement, but which remove all or almost all barriers to trade between them. Unfortunately, these gaps still distort trade and investment today. The initial GATT of 1947 defined the basic principles that largely dominated world trade over the next forty years and which were to become the basis of the WTO.  There were 23 original members known as “contracting parties.” The GATT was supposed to be a member-centred organization, but it had a very small secretariat in Geneva, responsible for managing the agreement for members. And developing countries were surprised and disoriented by the last-minute agreement that the new WTO would be a “one company.” Suddenly, they embarked on a series of agreements that were not mandatory before and which many developing countries really did not understand, such as customs assessment agreements, trade-related investment measures and intellectual property protection. They would also soon learn that compliance with these agreements would be very expensive. (These concerns are addressed in Chapter 6) However, for both political and economic reasons, policy makers have viewed these blocs as an exception to the status of the MFN.
Politically, it has been assumed that trading blocs could cause friction and even wars, and economically, that they could cause harm to non-members. According to economic theory, members of a preferential trading bloc could benefit from the creation of new business opportunities, while non-members could be harmed by loss of turnover to a less efficient member, which is sold only on the basis of tariff preference. In order to attract support from developing countries in the new round, it was agreed that one of the priority objectives of the negotiations would be to enable developing countries to better capitalize on the growth of world trade.  The second paragraph of the Ministerial Statement emphasized this point: “The majority of WTO members are developing countries. We try to place their needs and interests at the heart of the work agenda adopted in this statement. We will continue to make positive efforts to ensure that developing countries, and in particular the least developed countries of them, participate in the growth of world trade that meets the needs of their economic development. Twenty-two countries have “observer status” at the WTO, which means they must begin accession negotiations within five years of becoming observers.  Given that WTO membership is a long and time-consuming process, countries must carefully assess the costs and benefits.