The Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) came into being in 1995 as the successor to what was then known as the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). The WTO aims at ensuring greatest possible transparency of trade policies and at negotiating, administrating and monitoring agreed rules for trade. Through the lowering or elimination of existing customs duties and other barriers to trade, the WTO works continuously towards a more open global trading system.
The establishment of the WTO has led to a considerable expansion of international cooperation in the area of trade policy. It also covers the areas of services (GATS), investment (TRIMs) and intellectual property (TRIPS) as well as, in a plurilateral framework, government procurement (GPA), information technology (ITA) and civil aviation. Key pillars of the operative business are the on-going negotiations in the framework of the Doha Round launched in 2001, monitoring of the WTO’s agreements, and the review of national trade policies of member governments as well as accession negotiations (the current WTO membership stands at 164). The dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO provides member states with an effective instrument for the prevention of trade conflicts.
The WTO Unit at the German Permanent Representation in Geneva defends Germany’s interests in the organization. This includes regular reports on meetings of the various WTO bodies and intense coordination with European Union partner countries, but also the maintaining of close ties with the WTO Secretariat, the delegations of other WTO member states and with professional associations in the field of trade policy. Finally, the WTO Unit stays in close contact with representatives of civil society and with specialists on trade policy, for instance from the German national or regional or the EU parliaments or in academia.
Enlarge image Aerial photo showing the World Trade Organization (WTO) headquartered at the Centre William Rappard (© picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb) At government level the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is the lead actor for Germany’s positioning on trade policy issues, in coordination with other Federal Ministries concerned such as the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. At EU level, policies are coordinated in the weekly meetings of the Trade Policy Committee in Brussels. The WTO Unit attends follow-up coordination and information meetings relating to specific committee events or topical issues in Geneva. In the WTO, the Delegation of the European Commission to the WTO acts on behalf of the twenty-eight member states of the EU.
In day-to-day business formal procedures are accompanied by numerous practices of an informal nature. A specific position has to garner strong support from within the EU before the Commission and member states can endeavor to push it through in the WTO. On important topics the EU delegations hold an extensive exchange of views in the margins and outside of formal meetings. With decisions within the WTO typically being taken by consensus among all 164 member governments, it is equally important to muster support beyond the EU in good time.