A bilateral trade deal.

Tariffs on goods are mostly eliminated and mutual recognition agreements are agreed for most goods.

Has sovereignty been transferred or pooled?

  • How are you choosing to define sovereignty?
    – origimbo
    Oct 30, 2018 at 19:42
  • Thank you. Is sovereignty not a well defined concept? For the purposes of this question I mean sovereignty in the same sense that people say “sovereignty is pooled” in the EU.
    – 52d6c6af
    Oct 30, 2018 at 19:45
  • Sovereignty is pretty well defined, but what does it mean to 'pool' sovereignty? Choosing to enter into and adhere to agreements just seems like a normal thing that sovereign countries do.
    – Giter
    Oct 30, 2018 at 19:53
  • 1
    Here's a possible definition: oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100336931 Oct 30, 2018 at 19:58
  • “Pooled sovereignty” is an idiom frequently used when describing the model of the European Union. I have always presumed it meant that sovereign power is vested into an authority outside of the member state.
    – 52d6c6af
    Oct 30, 2018 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


There is an argument that an agreement that can be departed does not reduce sovereignty, as the parties can exercise their sovereignty by departing the agreement. From that perspective, the answer is no, free trade agreements do not pool sovereignty. The United Kingdom remains sovereign until Europe invades it to enforce the European Union. Contrast that with the lack of sovereignty of the Confederate states of the United States (see the US Civil War).

All treaties act to constrain the parties joining the treaty. That's what a treaty does, set down rules for the parties to follow.

The particular concern with free trade agreements is that they include requirements restricting regulatory requirements. The reason is that countries have been found to restrict trade via regulations that are onerous for foreign companies but easier for domestic companies. Over time, this has been seen as a way of getting around free trade agreements that only specified tariff levels. But it should be obvious that the fix for this constrains legitimate government regulatory activity as well as activity only aimed at restricting trade.

Part of the issue is that it is difficult to tell a legitimate regulation from one that is aimed at restricting trade. Because a regulation can address both purposes. It can have some legitimate goal and it can have a disparate impact on trade.

The EU's solution is to mostly centralize the regulation making in the EU rather than the individual countries. This makes it easier for companies to compete on an EU-wide basis, as there is mostly just one set of regulations with which to comply. But it makes it harder for individual countries to tailor regulations to their own needs. This is what people usually mean when they talk about pooling sovereignty. From that perspective, the answer is yes, the EU is pooling something (perhaps sovereignty is the wrong name).

Other trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership have similar provisions allowing for one member to challenge regulatory decisions of other members. The EU though still is at the far end of this, having much more of a government structure than the others.

  • This argument uses the UK/EU relationship as an example of a “free trade agreement.” Surely the UK/EU relationship differs from a FTA in that power is vested out-of-country in the hands of rule-makers not in, from or even ultimately answerable to the party nations. In a traditional FTA the arrangement is much less involved: tariffs are mostly set to zero, you agree quota reductions and you optionally put MRAs in place. The this latter scenario, decisions are taken directly by the nations entering into the agreement. And any changes are also made directly by these nations.
    – 52d6c6af
    Oct 31, 2018 at 10:10
  • Regarding the imposition of regulatory requirements, some people suggest a difference between situations where a transnational body can overrule or change a nation's laws, as with the EU, and agreements where a transnational body can award damages/compensation or other restitution but cannot modify laws, as with the EU-Canada trade deal. But it's debatable whether that's a real difference in sovereignty.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 31, 2018 at 16:52

It really depends on the deal.

The EU's single market is a pooling of sovereignty. Each country has more control than it would on its own, because the EU is such a large and powerful block that it can't be bullied or forced to accept unwanted terms when doing trade deals with non-EU countries. Each member also has a say in EU policy and a veto over many key aspects.

Compare that to the trade deal that the US is currently trying to do with Japan, or the one that would likely be offered to the UK after Brexit. The US wants Japan to lower automotive standards and food standards to accept more US cars and beef. Japan is stalling and trying to wait for a different administration to take over, because it does not want those terms and they would represent a loss of sovereignty and control of Japanese laws. Of course, the US wants the same thing from the UK, having failed to get it from the EU.

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