The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and EU agriculture
In this chapter, you will find an overview of the EU's multilateral trade activities in agriculture.
- The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and agriculture
- WTO obligations and their implementation
- Agriculture in the Doha Round
- Other WTO activities
The WTO and the multilateral trading system
With 160 member countries (in July 2014), the WTO, established in 1995, sets the global rules governing trade between nations. The WTO is a member-driven organisation whose core activities are:
- multilateral negotiations aimed at progressive liberalisation of markets;
- setting the legal ground-rules for trade in the form of agreements;
- resolving trade disputes between States; and
- monitoring Members' trade policies.
The European Union (EU), as the world's largest trading block, is a key player in the WTO, where the European Commission negotiates on behalf of the 28 countries of the EU as a single entity. The EU actively supports the work of the WTO on multilateral rule-making and trade liberalisation, seeking to:
- maintain open markets and ensure new markets for European companies;
- strengthen multilateral rules and ensure their observance by others;
- promote sustainable development in trade.
The current trading rules were negotiated during the Uruguay Round (1986–1994) leading to the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The Marrakesh Agreement is in fact a series of agreements on many aspects of trade rules including among others the latest revision of the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), intellectual property, dispute settlement, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary rules, and an Agreement on Agriculture.
Agriculture in the WTO
The WTO Agreement on Agriculture sets out specific commitments undertaken by WTO members to improve market access and reduce trade distorting subsidies in trade in agricultural products. The application of these agreed commitments started in 1995 with an implementation period for developed countries of 6 years, and 10 years for developing members. The Uruguay Round made a decisive move towards increased market orientation in global agricultural trade.
The results of the WTO negotiations consist of general rules that apply to all Members as well as specific commitments made by individual Members. These specific commitments are listed under 'schedules of concessions'. For agricultural products, these concessions and commitments include tariff and quota bindings, and limits on export subsidies and on domestic support.
The implementation of commitments stemming from the Agreement on Agriculture is overseen by the Committee on Agriculture. Within this committee, WTO members have the opportunity to consult on issues related to the implementation of their commitments. The questions members ask each other under the review of notifications are part of the Committee’s key responsibility of overseeing how countries are complying with their commitments.
WTO Ministerial Conferences
The 9th WTO Ministerial Conference took place in Bali in December 2013. Several declarations and decisions were adopted in particular in the areas of Trade Facilitation, Agriculture, Development and LDC issues.
On agriculture, the decisions taken cover three main issues:
- Public stockholding for food security purposes (+ General Services)
- Tariff Rate Quota Administration
- Export competition