Area within which goods may be landed, handled, and re-exported freely. The purpose is to remove obstacles to trade and to permit quick turnaround of ships and planes. Only when the goods are moved to consumers within the country in which the zone is located do they become subject to tariffs and customs regulation. Free-trade zones are found around major seaports, international airports, and national frontiers; there are more than 200 such zones in the U.S. alone.
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Policy in which a government does not discriminate against imports or interfere with exports. A free-trade policy does not necessarily imply that the government abandons all control and taxation of imports and exports, but rather that it refrains from actions specifically designed to hinder international trade, such as tariff barriers, currency restrictions, and import quotas. The theoretical case for free trade is based on Adam Smith's argument that the division of labour among countries leads to specialization, greater efficiency, and higher aggregate production. The way to foster such a division of labour, Smith believed, is to allow nations to make and sell whatever products can compete successfully in an international market.
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Trade pact signed by Canada, the U.S., and Mexico in 1992, which took effect in 1994. Inspired by the success of the European Community in reducing trade barriers among its members, NAFTA created the world's largest free-trade area. It basically extended to Mexico the provisions of a 1988 Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement, calling for elimination of all trade barriers over a 15-year period, granting U.S. and Canadian companies access to certain Mexican markets, and incorporating agreements on labour and the environment. Seealso General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade; World Trade Organization.
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International organization whose purpose is to remove barriers to trade in industrial goods among its members. The EFTA's current members are Iceland, Liechteinstein, Norway, and Switzerland. It was formed in 1960 by Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Britain as an alternative to the European Economic Community (EEC). Some of those countries later left the EFTA and joined the EEC. In the 1990s Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway joined the European Economic Area, which also included all members of the European Union. Each country in the EFTA maintains its own commercial policy toward countries outside the group.
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