The resurgence of continental trading blocs throughout the 1980s will influence the nature and evolution of the world economy in the 1990s and beyond. In this paper, we argue that classical economic analysis of trading blocs is inconclusive, and regionalism cannot be understood in economic terms alone. We focus on an examination of the relationship that exists between trading bloc formation and more fundamental economic and social trends taking place in the industrialized economies since the Second World War. Our contention is that regionalism represents one of the most fundamental restructuring processes affecting the world economy since the principles of international trade were established at the Bretton Woods Conference. Regionalism and multilateralism represent competing, but not necessarily mutually exclusive, principles underpinning economic integration and trade in the global economy. The end products of this competition are the two potentially complementary, spatial processes of trade bloc formation and globalization. Consequently, not only globalization but also regionalism are at the center of the economic transformation of contemporary industrial society and changing international relations.