Trade agreements are generally unilateral, bilateral or multilateral. It is clear that the United States is benefiting from reducing its trade barriers to its trading partners as a result of increased exports, which will result in increased production and employment. Most economists also believe that the United States benefits from removing its own trade barriers, as consumers benefit from lower costs and international competition forces producers to improve efficiency. However, the liberalization of imports has implications for domestic labour and production, which must be taken into account. However, a number of countries – including Japan, South Korea, China and a few other Far Eastern countries – have followed a model of neo-omercantilism in which they are trying to grow through aggressive export expansion, as well as a very moderate reduction in import barriers. These countries are trying to develop powerful export industries by first protecting their domestic industries from foreign competition and by providing subsidies and other aid to stimulate growth, often including currency manipulation. The classical Western business model was based on the economic realities of the 18th century. The factors of production were relatively fixed: the land was immobile (although its fertility or use may change) and labour mobility was severely constrained by political constraints. For most of the century, cross-border capital movements have been constrained by political barriers and lack of knowledge in other markets. (However, by the middle of the 19th century, capital and labour were freer between Europe and America.
The technology in the 18th century was relatively simple by current standards and was relatively similar in all countries. In addition, production of most products was exposed to declining yields at that time, which meant that with the increase in production, the production costs of each additional unit increased. The GATT authors felt that the removal of trade barriers should be done on a multilateral basis, in order to obtain the most important benefits of expanded production on the basis of comparative advantages. As noted above, they have included this term in Article I of the GATT (most favoured nation, MFN, treatment), which requires members to grant equal treatment of trade barriers to all GATT members.