The number of both bilateral and regional trade agreements is growing. Almost all trading nations are pursuing bilateral and/or regional agreements at the same time as they are following multilateral agendas. In addition to issues of tariffs and trade in goods, agreements now often include a broader list of trade-related issues: trade in services, investment, intellectual property, trade facilitation, competition, and so on. Furthermore, many trade agreements include elements of broader political, social and economic association agreements.
Trade unions in a number of countries have become active in recent years in following their government's negotiation of trade agreements, and in pressuring their government to include provisions safeguarding workers' rights in those agreements. As a result, there are several examples of trade agreements treating workers' rights in various different ways. However, there are far more examples of trade agreements that make no mention of workers' rights.
Achieving arrangements for consultation of trade unions, sometimes in bilateral mechanisms with employers' organisations or sometimes with civil society, have been a goal of trade unions in several of the bilateral and regional negotiations. In some treaties, such as that of the European Union (probably the oldest existing regional economic cooperation treaty), there are institutionalised arrangements for consultation of trade unions and employers' organisations, as well as of the regional, democratically-elected European Parliament. Unions have made similar gains in Mercosur. Elsewhere unions are still striving to achieve such progress.