Economic integration is the unification of economic policies between different states through the partial or full abolition of tariff and non-tariff restrictions on trade taking place among them prior to their integration. This is meant in turn to lead to lower prices for distributors and consumers with the goal of increasing the combined economic productivity of the states. The trade stimulation effects intended by means of economic integration are part of the contemporary economic Theory of the Second Best: where, in theory, the best option is free trade, with free competition and no trade barriers whatsoever. Free trade is treated as an idealistic option, and although realized within certain developed states, economic integration has been thought of as the "second best" option for global trade where barriers to full free trade exist.
In economics, the word integration was first employed in industrial organisation to refer to combinations of business firms through economic agreements, cartels, concerns, trusts, and mergers—horizontal integration referring to combinations of competitors, vertical integration to combinations of suppliers with customers. In the current sense of combining separate economies into larger economic regions, the use of the word integration can be traced to the 1930s and 1940s. Fritz Machlup credits Eli Heckscher, Herbert Gaedicke and Gert von Eyern as the first users of the term economic integration in its current sense. According to Machlup, such usage first appears in the 1935 English translation of Hecksher's 1931 book Merkantilismen (Mercantilism in English), and independently in Gaedicke's and von Eyern's 1933 two-volume study Die produktionswirtschaftliche Integration Europas: Eine Untersuchung über die Aussenhandelsverflechtung der europäischen Länder.
An increase of welfare has been recognized as a main objective of economic integration. The increase of trade between member states of economic unions is meant to lead to the increase of the GDP of its members, and hence, to better welfare. This is one of the reasons for the global scale development of economic integration, a phenomenon now realized in continental economic blocks such as ASEAN, NAFTA, SACN, the European Union, and the Eurasian Economic Community; and proposed for intercontinental economic blocks, such as the Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia and the Transatlantic Free Trade Area. The other objective for the states pursuing economic integration is to become or stay regionally and globally competitive, as the goods of the states outside economic blocks become more expensive.
The degree of economic integration can be categorized into six stages: 1. Preferential trading area 2. Free trade area, Monetary union 3. Customs union, Common market 4. Economic union, Customs and monetary union 5. Economic and monetary union, • Fiscal union 6. Complete economic integration These differ in the degree of unification of economic policies, with the highest one being the political union of the states. A "free trade area" (FTA) is formed when at least two states partially or fully abolish custom tariffs on their inner border. To exclude regional exploitation of zero tariffs within the FTA there is a rule of certificate of origin for the goods originating from the territory of a member state of an FTA. A "customs union" introduces unified tariffs on the exterior borders of the union (CET, common external tariffs). A "monetary union" introduces a shared currency. A "common market" add to a FTA the free movement of services, capital and labor. Stages of economic integration around the World:(each country colored according to the most advanced trade pactagreement that it participates into.) Economic and Monetary Union (CARICOM Single Market and EconomyCSME/Eastern Caribbean Currency UnionEC$, Economic and...