The title is: "I just read 296 trade agreements". (Thanks to Hosuk Lee-Makiyama for the tip!)
The substance is interesting, too:
... the first question that arises is: "Why do countries sign EIAs?" …
The second question is: "What are they signing?" Empirical studies extensively show that there is considerable variation in the degree to which individual EIAs affect However, EIAs may differ by design and, in turn, have different outcomes on trade. Paraphrasing George Orwell, "all EIAs are equal, but some are more equal than others." As such, the central aim of this study is to assess differences between EIAs in terms of the provisions that they contain. This information can then be used to construct a quantifiable measure of EIA's comprehensiveness. In doing so, I explore the value-added of explicitly accounting for EIA heterogeneity in empirical studies of international trade. It will be shown, for example, that identifying what countries agree to in their EIAs may also explain why they sign them.
The contributions and organization of this paper are as follows.
The first contribution is data coverage. In seminal work, Horn et al. (2010) study the contents of 31 EIAs involving either the European Community (EC) or United States. In contrast, the present study extends the sample to contain no less than 296 trade agreements that have been enforced all over the world during the period 1948-2011 among WTO members and non-members alike, making it the most exhaustive survey to date. Section 2 takes stock of the provisions contained in these EIAs and identifies the policy domains contributing to the most prominent similarities and differences among the agreements. In doing so, it addresses the question what nations are signing.
The second contribution is quantification. Section 3 uses the information on the EIAs' provisions to quantify the extent to which the agreements' contents are comprehensive. This measure, called the EIA comprehensiveness index, is subsequently used to shed light on the question as to why nations sign EIAs. Strikingly, WTO membership will be shown to be of significant importance.
The final contribution is that it explores whether the EIA dummy can successfully be replaced by the "smarter" EIA index in a typical setting of the gravity equation. This is done in section 4 to determine how an EIA's comprehensiveness is associated with its estimated effect on international trade. Remarkably, not all provisions contained in EIAs are trade-promoting. Provisions that are in line with WTO regulations are found to be trade-promoting, while measures that go beyond the WTO's mandate actually decrease trade. Section 5 discusses these outcomes and concludes.