Permanent Mission of the European Union to
the World Trade Organization (WTO)

The EU and the WTO

11/05/2016 - 17:09
Relations with International Organisations and Fora

As laid down by treaty, the European Union (EU) institutions have exclusive competence over international trade matters. This covers trade in goods, trade in services, commercial aspects of intellectual property and foreign direct investment (FDI).

The EU speaks with one voice on international trade matters, including in the World Trade Organization (WTO), where the EU Mission represents the EU and its 27 EU member states.

The EU is committed to multilateralism and has acknowledged the fundamental importance of the WTO in the international trade system. The EU supports the work of the WTO on multilateral rule-making, trade liberalisation and sustainable development.

The EU plays an active role in the regular work of the WTO. This work is mainly carried out in the Councils and Committees tasked with the administration of various WTO agreements and with monitoring their implementation.  

Additional and important regular work in the WTO includes:

Doha Development Agenda

The Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations — also known as the Doha Development Agenda — was launched by WTO members meeting at Ministerial level in Doha (2001). Its aim is to further liberalise trade and, in particular, to help least-developed countries integrate into the multilateral trading system.

In Bali (2013), the main outcome agreed by Ministers was the Trade Facilitation Agreement. WTO members also agreed on a series of Doha agriculture and development issues.

In Nairobi (2015), WTO Ministers agreed on the elimination of export subsidies for agriculture and the introduction of new rules for similar measures, which also significantly distort international trade and disrupt local markets.

They also agreed on a set of important decisions to address certain demands of the least-developed WTO members, including:

  • simplifying the conditions that exporters from the poorest countries must meet for their products to benefit from trade agreements (so-called rules of origin);
  • giving more opportunities for businesses from the poorest countries to provide services in the WTO's 164 member countries;
  • facilitating the integration of least-developed countries' cotton producers in global trade.

Plurilateral initiatives

Information Technology Agreement

At the WTO’s Singapore Ministerial Conference in 1996, 29 members signed the Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products, establishing the Information Technology Agreement (ITA). The ITA eliminates import duties on Information Communication Technology (ICT) products like personal computers and mobile phones.

Due to the rapid expansion of technology in recent years, a new ITA agreement was signed at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December 2015, adding more than 200 ICT products to the duty free list.

This deal, initiated by the EU, extends the 1996 Information Technology Agreement (ITA) to cover €1.3 trillion in global trade. It is the biggest tariff-cutting deal in the WTO in almost two decades.

Today, the number of signatories stands at 82, covering approximately 97 % of world trade in ICT products.

The Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA)

Since July 2014, the EU and 16 other WTO members have been negotiating the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA). The aim is to remove barriers to trade in green goods like solar panels and recycling machinery. EGA is important, as these products are key for curbing climate change and protecting the environment.

The Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA)

The Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) is a trade agreement being negotiated by 23 members of the WTO, including the EU. Together, the participating countries make up 70 % of world trade in services. Negotiations started in March 2013.

The 1995 WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism gives all WTO members the confidence that all members will respect negotiated agreements covered by the Mechanism. It provides WTO members with a clear legal framework for resolving disputes where negotiations fail to resolve them. A member may then request a Panel to settle the dispute. The Panel’s report can be appealed before the WTO Appellate Body on questions of law. If a member fails to comply with the recommendations from dispute settlement, trade compensation or sanctions, for example in the form of increases in customs duties, may follow.

WTO members, including the EU, make active use of the Mechanism. The system works well as it resolves important disputes in a binding manner. It also helps prevent retaliation before a dispute settlement procedure has been completed, thereby avoiding damaging unilateral action.

The 1994 Marrakesh Ministerial Conference mandated WTO member governments to conduct a review of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), the WTO agreement on dispute settlement, within four years of the entry into force of the WTO Agreement (i.e. by 1 January 1999).

In Doha, the Ministerial Conference renewed the mandates for negotiations on improvements and clarification of the system. To this end, WTO members identified 12 issues for further discussion. The EU tabled its own proposals on three of these issues.

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