Working for free trade
A Foreign & Commonwealth Office case study

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Page 3: The World Trade Organisation

The WTO came with a large ‘built-in’ agenda agreed during the Uruguay Round. It covers a much wider range of topics than the GATT. As well as trade in goods, it also deals with services (such as financial services and telecommunications), agriculture, investment and much more. Unlike GATT, which could only advise on trade disputes between member countries, the WTO has the power to enforce rules and agreements through a dispute Settlement Body.

The UK's work in the WTO is conducted primarily through the European Community (one of the three ‘pillars’ of the EU). The Community has ‘exclusive competence’ in trade in goods. The EU is the world’s largest trading body and exporter of services (accounting for around 20 per cent of the world’s trade in goods). This  means it has far greater influence in negotiations than the UK acting alone.

The UK is a very active member of the WTO. Ministers and officials from the FCO and other Whitehall departments, especially the Department for Trade and Industry, play an important part in its various meetings and negotiations. Among other things, it is working to:

  • reduce the burden placed on businesses by unnecessary industrial standards and technical regulations
  • simplify import and export procedures
  • liberalise rules for international investment.

At the same time, the Government aims to ensure that the interests of developing countries – especially the least developed – are taken fully into account in WTO negotiations. The WTO is also concerned with possible negative effects of trade on the environment. In 1999 it produced a long report, Trade and Environment.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office | Working for free trade